Live Radio over the Mobile Web
Mobile users with internet connectivity can now listen live on pretty much any phone* to all of the BBC's national radio networks directly via our mobile web pages.
Live radio is the original mobile media, since the mid 1950s when the Regency TR-1 introduced the world to transistor-based radios - looking not enormously dissimilar to the Apple iPod. (See this picture comparing the two on Flickr.)
Although many devices have FM radios included - this is not so in most of the latest web-centric smartphones, nor does it give access to our digital radio networks. Live radio is of course the heart of what BBC Audio & Music produce. Not allowing access to live radio streaming on mobile has left us with a very limited offering to mobile users.
Within the mobile web browser, what we've been able to make available previously was comparable to DVD extras without the main feature. Such supplementary content can be useful, entertaining or enjoyable, but rarely comes close to matching the value or impact of the feature itself. In this case, the main feature is the live broadcast output of the BBC's national radio networks.
Until now, we were rather stuck on this due to the end-user cost and bandwidth limitations of mobile web traffic. However, as our audiences spend an increasing amount of time consuming content via their mobile devices it seemed the time was nigh for a change in our policies. Over the past two years, UK page views to the BBC Mobile site have increased almost six-fold, from 35m in April 2008 to 208m in April 2010 (Source: Sage).
Historically, and with the best intentions, the BBC has taken a very cautious approach to high-bandwidth services on mobile. This has been to help avoid what the mobile industry terms "bill-shock", where users don't realise how much data they are consuming till their monthly bill arrives or till their PAYG (pay as you go) credit runs out unexpectedly. However, the market is changing dramatically. Now many new phones are sold with an included unlimited data plan. Even a large proportion of PAYG users would now find themselves on a flat-rate per day (unless roaming), so there's no difference in end-user cost browsing a simple, text-only site or browsing a data-intensive site, with lots of audio and video content.
It's taken many months to make a change to the BBC's position on mobile streaming, to develop optimised audio streams for all networks and to create various device detection rules to try to ensure we serve the right streams to the right devices (some work differently to others).
Now that the radio station offer has changed, steps have been taken to make it easier for users to find and navigate to the BBC Radio mobile sites. Mobile users who, for example, type into their browser www.bbc.co.uk/radio3 are automatically redirected to our mobile optimised site, www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/radio3. (This is currently true for all mobile devices except iPhone/iPod Touch as streaming radio is not yet available for these devices). And if the user prefers the full-fat experience, there is a clear option to 'Go To Desktop' in the footer of each page. For the BBC, it means one URL to promote; for the user it's just one URL to remember and fewer clicks.
As a user, once you navigate to a BBC Radio mobile site, you'll see a link to 'Listen Live' under the name of the show now on air near the top of the page. Before audio streaming begins, an interstitial page displays detailed guidance and a warning on costs, in order to help users avoid any bill-shock. A couple of clicks later, via a majority of mobile devices (iPhone & iPod Touch to come) you'll be able to access all of the BBC's national radio networks. For our digital-only networks such as Radio 1Xtra, Asian Network, 6Music and Radio 7, as well as Radio 5Live (AM + DAB), this is the first time their output have been available on a majority of mobile devices, so it's quite a significant step forward for us. You don't need any fancy or expensive downloadable apps, or even a high-end smartphone - just a stable internet connection from your phone, be that EDGE/GPRS, 3G or WiFi.
If you're using your mobile to read this article, then you could click through now to www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/radio, pick a station and hear for yourself.
We hope you enjoy listening.
James Simcock is Executive Producer, Mobile, BBC A&Mi.
*Currently known exceptions being the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch, which we're working on, and some devices where streaming functionality is disabled - sometimes the case with business Blackberries.