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RealMedia - an update

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Mark Kortekaas Mark Kortekaas | 15:23 UK time, Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Editor's note: this is a joint posting from: Mark Kortekaas (BBC Audio & Music), Ian Myatt (BBC Nations & Regions) and Karl Kathuria (BBC World Service)


At BBC Radio we try to deliver the best experience for users of our streaming services. We constantly review our services to make sure they deliver 'public value'. The four drivers of public value are: Reach, Quality, Impact and Value.

When streaming services are evaluated against these measures, we take into account where different formats might need to be implemented, evolved or deprecated.

The streaming service provided in RealMedia format has been with us at the BBC since 1996. At the time it was the best option available, but more recently alternative methods of delivery have become just as important. These include Windows Media and Flash.

When evaluating services with our public value tests, which includes the costs of the services, we came to the decision that RealMedia was something we needed to phase out.

The actions to phase out RealMedia are broken down as follows:

  • National networks - e.g. Radio 2, Radio 6Music, Asian Network, etc
  • Nations - e.g. BBC Radio Scotland , BBC Radio Wales, etc
  • Local Radio - e.g. BBC Cumbria, BBC Bristol, etc
  • WorldService - the English language streaming service in iPlayer only - international World Service streams are unaffected.
National networks

It was clear that we could easily plan for a migration period for National networks during which RealMedia and alternatives will be available and allow for our audience and third-parties to make changes in a reasonable period.

So we'll be phasing out RealMedia by 30 March, 2010 for National networks.

In order to improve the experience in the BBC iPlayer web interface, we'll change the lower bandwidth option from its current RealMedia offering to a new Flash offering at 48kbps. We hope for this to be completed in October.

The legacy RealMedia streams will continue to exist on our systems until the March deadline, so that it gives those who still use them time to migrate to using the alternative:

  • Windows Media for Live streams - available globally for these services
  • Windows Media for Listen Again streams - will phase in over the next few months and be available globally.
Nations & Local Radio

The technology used for Nations and Local Radio services is more restrictive and a more difficult decision had to be made. A migration period would not have been possible without a significant increase in equipment which could not be justified. We had to make the unfortunate decision to switch off RealMedia as we simply could not offer both RealMedia and Windows Media at the same time.

In addition to the disruption caused to the Listen Live services, an unforeseen dependency means that the Listen Again service in Windows Media won't be operational until November.

World Service

Due to differences in production, World Service live and on-demand streams will continue to be available in Flash, RealMedia and Windows Media formats. However, if you access our content through BBC iPlayer it will only be available in Flash. Links to RealMedia and Windows Media versions of our programmes will be available from bbcworldservice.com.

Mark Kortekaas is Future Media Controller, A&M and Mobile Media

Further help

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Is it possible to specifically access lower bitrate streams of the Windows Media streams. I like to stream via my iphone (using apps like Pocket Tunes) and 128kbps is usually too high.

  • Comment number 2.

    I have repeatedly asked for a 128k aac or MP3 listen live & listen again stream for BBC Local,this is available on National and nations.

    If the BBC has no intention of bringing value to my licence fee,can you please notify me here to prevent me from daily looking for this to arrive to my PC.

    It would be welcome to know either way despite my grudge that huge amount of bitrate goes to HD tv but some reluctance to provide this to radio for preference to dab promotional purposes.

  • Comment number 3.

    Here is my usual refrain ... sorry Ian I know that you have heard it before and have replied elsewhere ... but ... please make explicit comments about the provisions being made for internet radio devices that cannot play Flash stuff.
    We know that you have an XML feed that provides a look-up mechanism to then access the direct stream links for content (WMA, MP3 or AAC) - and I have no doubt that it will remain in place - but it would be much more comforting if you stated it.

    Flash implies an interactive user with a mouse or keyboard - that is not the case with the vast vast majority of internet radios.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'll second Paul's comments. I still get hundreds of hits every day at www.iplayerconverter.co.uk from people needing the RealAudio version of BBC radio programming (many are Internet Radio users, some use mobile phones which can't run Flash) so it would be reassuring to hear that you'll continue to provide access to direct streams via the XML feeds, or even consider opening up the current obsfuscated AAC/MP3 streams for access by third parties

  • Comment number 5.

    I'll echo Paul Webster and adancy on this one. I listen via WiFi Internet Radio most of the time, not through my computer, and flas simply doesn't work. I listen to the BBC a lot and I hope this shift isn't going to make it harder!

  • Comment number 6.

    #3. At 10:10pm on 07 Oct 2009, PaulWebster wrote:

    "Here is my usual refrain ... sorry Ian I know that you have heard it before and have replied elsewhere ... but ... please make explicit comments about the provisions being made for internet radio devices that cannot play Flash stuff."

    ...also, on this theme of people wanting content made available to all possible platforms/formats, can we have a comment or two on when the BBC is going to make all their FM radio stations available on the MW and SW spectrum so that everyone can receive these BBC's radio services - some people still have MW/LW/SW only radios after all, especially those who own classic/period cars or wish to listen from abroad - and what about making the television services available to all, how should the BBC go about making all their digital TV channels available on the UHF (never mind VHF) spectrum?! I bet there will be far more useless but working UHF only televisions, that can't be (easily) connected to a digital STB that there are Real internet radios in the UK - and if you're not in the UK, you don't really have a case to argue anyway...

    "Flash implies an interactive user with a mouse or keyboard - that is not the case with the vast vast majority of internet radios."

    Rubbish, it implies a format, how a device handles the format is a mater for the designers of the device, not the format. It is quite possible to enable a device to auto load/play the "Flash" format as it is "Real".

    As I implied above, "Real" is (becoming) a dead format, just as the VHF and UHF (will soon be, if it;s not already) television services are, and just like the MW radio spectrum was for many people when they lost access to certain BBC radio stations with moved onto the FM spectrum in the late 1970s.

  • Comment number 7.

    Why are you using proprietary technologies like Windows Media and Flash that are not available on some platforms (e.g. the iPhone)? The BBC should be using open technologies that are as platform agnostic as possible, and not tied to a single company like Adobe or Microsoft.

  • Comment number 8.

    #7

    "The BBC should be using open technologies that are as platform agnostic as possible, and not tied to a single company like Adobe or Microsoft."

    I suspect that some of it is due to rights protection issues (open source by definition is insecure in this respect), but Flash is not platform dependant, in fact (seeing you cite the iPhone) Apple are far more restrictive with their iPhone platform than any device that is able to deploy either WMA or Flash! Quite frankly, complaining about restrictive formats and then citing the iPhone platform is bordering on being an oxymoron in my opinion!

  • Comment number 9.

    Can you do me a favour and make it possible for the Windows Media player streams to play in Real Player? It is possible to play .asx files used by other radio stations in Real Player if I want to use Real Player.

    BBC local radio stations are so quiet, especially when they provide live sports commentaries. Using Real Player's equaliser, I can make the commentary louder, and there is more of an atmosphere.

    It was annoying during Wimbledon when I couldn't use Real Player like I did in 2008 to play the matches.

  • Comment number 10.

    Really sad that the formats you've chosen are ones controlled by corporations rather than open to community software development. It means that instead of being able to use anything to access BBC content, we all have to wait for Adobe or Microsoft to bless us with a working player.

    How about embracing an open format for a change, like Ogg? Ogg is supported natively in Firefox so arguably provides the best target for BBC media. And how about using HTML 5 instead of proprietary players?

  • Comment number 11.

    How depressing that the Beeb had a decade to work on better solutions and yet they migrated to worse ones!
    After the News24 channel stopped streaming with Real I could no longer watch it. It wasn’t just for the horrible performance from Flash (it would make my netbook crawl), but the bitrates aswell - it would consistently stop playback for buffering making it unwatchable - rather than adapt like RM did. Now i’m stuck only being able to watch the odd selection you have on the iPlayer (via my PS3, the only device I have left with Flash on)

    Real
    Reach: Low, no idea
    Quality: Reasonable, but it worked
    Impact: Brilliant
    Value: Valuable

    Flash
    Reach: ~90%
    Quality: Awful
    Impact: Reasonable when it works
    Value: Not

    WMedia
    Reach: <90%
    Quality: No idea, don’t have Windows
    Impact: ^
    Value: Not

    And you’re shutting down the last remaining channels? humorous.

  • Comment number 12.

    Ogg is not an audio format. I believe you are referring to Vorbis.

  • Comment number 13.

    Clearly it is not realistic to make radio content available in all audio formats under the sun, as this would not be cost-effective for the BBC or the license fee payer.

    However, radio broadcast over the airwaves in the UK - be that FM, AM or DAB - is based on broadcasting standards that have been agreed internationally between broadcasters and manufacturers. This makes it possible to choose between wide range of receiving devices.

    Sadly this is not the case with the BBC's Internet radio broadcasts, which rely on protocols designed by a single vendor. It clearly would not be acceptable if the over-the-air broadcasts required a radio made by Sony, say, in order to listen, but such a situation is not questioned on the web.

    The switch from RealAudio to Flash streaming is a welcome move in that it addresses the many shortcomings of the RealAudio protocols, but the BBC have missed a chance to open up their streams to a wider audience who do not for whatever reason have the ability to use Flash/Windows Media/etc. on their devices.

    As WebMink says, HTML 5 provides full support for embedded media without requiring Flash or any other plug-in. It may not yet have sufficient support in web browsers beyond Firefox to implement by itself, but it is certainly something the Beeb should be addressing in their road map, at the very least.

  • Comment number 14.

    I agree with WebMink. Please can radio be provided in an open format such as Ogg Vorbis?

    Using an open format means that we listeners won't be at the mercy of individual companies or organizations.

  • Comment number 15.

    Does this mean that I can't listen to my BBC Local Radio Stations anymore? It has stopped working and nothing I do makes it work.


    Once again the BBC is censoring what I can see or hear. I can't read some BBC News web-pages, and I can't hear BBC radio anymore.

    Fantastic. Is this progress?

    I invested a lot of money in equipment which has worked for a long time, and now it doesn't.

    Thanks a lot.

  • Comment number 16.

    #8

    "complaining about restrictive formats and then citing the iPhone platform is bordering on being an oxymoron in my opinion!"

    Apple are a for profit corporation with no public service mandate, as such they are entirely within their rights to create and sell a closed platform (much as it irritates me). The BBC are a public service broadcaster with a mandate to make their content available as widely as possible. The two corporations do not bear comparison.

    Nor does it make sense to compare a closed platform to a decision to use a proprietary content format, they are quite different things.

    Between those two facts it becomes clear that in comparing Apple's closed platform to the BBC's decision to use a proprietary format there is no oxymoron, just a daft comparison.

  • Comment number 17.

    #16. At 00:01am on 09 Oct 2009, Mahoney266 wrote:

    "Apple are a for profit corporation with no public service mandate,"

    Yes, and the BBC is under no obligation to offer anything via the internet...

    They also have a mandate to spend licence fee money wisely, most people would not call continuing to spend money of deprecated formats/platforms just to appease Open Source martyrs or the owners of a few poorly designed hand-held device as being wise. It would probably work out cheaper to buy new devices for those people, but doing that would throw up all sorts of other issues!

    "The BBC are a public service broadcaster with a mandate to make their content available as widely as possible."

    They do, most people can access either Flash or WMA media files.

    Also, it's not as though, as I might have said before, that these Flash or WMA formats do not have FREE media players available on ALL the major commercial and open source platforms. If your device doesn't then it's either an old deprecated format/platform or has major (software/firmware) design flaws.

    "Nor does it make sense to compare a closed platform to a decision to use a proprietary content format, they are quite different things."

    Yes it does once you actually start to understand the issues, something that many here obviously do not seem able to grasp, you will never get open source software delivering rights protected content, that is what I suggested was an oxymoron.

    Oh and before you ask, I use open source when and were it does the job. In fact when (on the odd occasions) I need to open a real media stream I prefer to use open source software rather than the propitiatory bloat/malware (IMO) player offered by "Real".

  • Comment number 18.

    @Boilerplated

    You keep stating "you will never get open source software delivering rights protected content", yet I can listen to the BBC WMA and Real streams using MPlayer. And now iTunes now delivers DRM-free AACs. There is nothing to stop me ripping the Listen-Again streams if I want to - all the "locks" on it simply make it inconvenient to listen to. And why do they need to put those locks on The Today Programme or anything else that is never going to be released on CD? Or indeed copyrighted music - there are thousands of streaming MP3 radio stations playing copyrighted music on the internet, and there have been for years. The WMA stream of Radio 1 is no more DRM protected than an MP3, it is just more inconvenient for listeners.

    Yes, Real is a PITA, but so is the ludicrous CPU-hog that is flash on Mac/Linux. So I don't really see this as much progress. The future is HTML5, and if this means I can copy radio streams, just like I can do now, just like people used to tape the top 40 - so what?

  • Comment number 19.

    #18

    "There is nothing to stop me ripping the Listen-Again streams if I want to - all the "locks" on it simply make it inconvenient to listen to."

    No more than it would be for the rest of the population if they used ogg or vorbis rather than one of the more common formats.

    "The future is HTML5, and if this means I can copy radio streams, just like I can do now, just like people used to tape the top 40 - so what?"

    You make a good case for not having such content accessible via the internet...

  • Comment number 20.

    @Boilerplated

    Your diatribe about MW/SW misses the point.
    Internet radio devices are not an old-fashioned technology.
    BBC has endorsed their use - with the raw XML feeds that were introduced long ago (so that vendors would no longer feel the need to scrape web pages).
    The problem here is that the introduction of support for On Demand of BBC local radio was messed up. The Real content was turned off before the WMA was enabled. So - for over a month there has been no access through the official route for internet radio devices ... and despite an expectation set by BBC that it would be resolved by end of September ... it has now moved to sometime in November.

    A specific comment in the blog referring to that community of users would have been welcomed.
    It does (now?) have a link to
    http://iplayerhelp.external.bbc.co.uk/help/streaming_programmes/internet_radio_listen_live
    which includes a "please note" at the end - that should really be at the start.

  • Comment number 21.

    "we came to the decision that RealMedia was something we needed to phase out."

    When exactly did you make that decision?

  • Comment number 22.

    Just wanting to echo the support for community-developed open codecs here (i.e. Ogg Vorbis & Theora for video). I still find it incredibly sad and frustrating that the BBC does not support these excellent Open Source technologies.

    Proprietary formats are only platform independent so far as their maker's commercial priorities are concerned at any point in time; let's not forget how long it has taken Adobe to reach even the beginnings of support for 64-bit architectures. We cannot trust closed-source/protected IP formats to fully serve the needs of everyone. That might be acceptable from a pragmatic standpoint if there were not such perfectly good open alternatives that are not being used...why exactly?

    Also, Vorbis and Theora are sound forward-looking technology investments in view of the direct support for these codecs in many popular browsers with (X)HTML 5. If any organisation has the opportunity to take a technology leadership position in this way, independent of commercial sponsorship and constraints, it really ought to be the BBC. That is something that really would restore a great deal of lost confidence in our once-treasured public-service broadcaster.

  • Comment number 23.

    Regarding Ogg/Vobis - although James has now left the BBC, people might be interested in this blog post from him from last year(4th paragraph down).

  • Comment number 24.

    #20. At 11:29am on 09 Oct 2009, PaulWebster wrote:

    "Your diatribe about MW/SW misses the point."

    In your opinion...

    "Internet radio devices are not an old-fashioned technology."

    Yes it is if it uses a deprecated format and Real is one such codec/formate.

  • Comment number 25.

    Following up on previous comments, I was overjoyed when all local BBC radio station links were updated on the wifiradio-frontier portal.
    Output is WMA at 44kbps. Reliability : good (was expecting excellent).
    However, my joy was short-lived : after trying out the ones I regularly listen to (typically, BBC Radio Newcastle and BBC Radio York), this is what I experienced. After the first drop-out (usually after 10 min.), my internet radio device goes into a tailspin and is unable to reconnect. The only way of recovering play is by doing a reboot (pulling out the plug or by pressing reset).
    It is driving me round the bend.
    I dread the moment when the national RA radio streams will be phased out and replaced by WMA, unless issue has been resolved.
    At this stage I do not know whether this is a software related problem or due to a faulty audio stream.
    I have no problem playing the live programmes on my PC.
    What was billed as an improvement is turning into a bit of a nightmare.

  • Comment number 26.

    @Boilerplated

    "I suspect that some of it is due to rights protection issues (open source by definition is insecure in this respect)"

    You seem to understand Open Source as poorly as Ashley Highfield, who claimed:

    [quote]
    The problem at the moment, there is no open source DRM. It’s almost a contradiction in terms, if you have DRM how can you have it open source? Because open source people will be able to find out how it works and get round it.
    [/quote]

    http://www.links.org/?p=269

    Just because the source is available for an encryption tool, that doesn't somehow defeat the encryption. If you think it does, then you're welcome to provide evidence of how easy it is to crack GnuPG keyfiles, for example.

    I won't hold my breath.

    The kind of "security" you're advocating is not security at all, but /obscurity/, which is a well known fallacy, since hiding something that is otherwise insecure, will not prevent it from being found by those determined to look for it, and when they do, there will be nothing else to prevent them having unrestricted access to whatever is being "protected".

    OTOH, if something is /actually/ secure, then it doesn't matter one bit whether or not the source is publicly accessible, from a security perspective, because mere access to the source cannot break that security.

    Think about the many security feature of GNU/Linux, for example, beyond GnuPG, such as SELinux, PAM authentication, and Cryptsetup-LUKS. The source to all those applications is Open and Free, and yet the security of none of those applications has been compromised, and it's certainly not for the want of hackers trying.

    So how do you account for that?

    Now look at the kind of "security" offered by Windows Media Player and iTunes, both of which can be circumvented to have full, unrestricted access to the unencrypted content (using FairUse4WM and QTFairUse, respectively).

    Being closed source didn't seem to help those DRM systems, did it, any more than it helped the Content Scrambling System for DVDs, or AACS and BD+ "protection" for Blu-ray, all of which have been broken and/or circumvented?

    So in short, there is absolutely /nothing/ to prevent the implementation of DRM on GNU/Linux, other than the general revulsion at the idea of Draconian Restrictions Management.

    Of course there are also closed source solutions available for GNU/Linux. RealNetworks did it with HelixDRM® (a fact the BBC chose to ignore for years), and now Adobe are doing it with Air®. Free Software DRM systems would also certainly be possible, and no more "insecure" than their closed source counterparts, despite the ignorant FUD to the contrary.

  • Comment number 27.

    Could someone from the BBC please explain why they are ignoring the media codec that they developed specifically for this purpose?:

    [quote]
    Dirac is an open and royalty-free video compression format, specification and system developed by BBC Research at the BBC.
    [/quote]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirac_%28codec%29

    @Boilerplated

    This comment is simply ridiculous: "No more than it would be for the rest of the population if they used ogg or vorbis rather than one of the more common formats."

    First of all, "ogg or vorbis" is nonsense. "Ogg" is a container format. Vorbis is an audio codec. Delivery of the latter is invariably contained within the former, so there is no "either or", it's simply "Ogg Vorbis". You make it sound like Ogg and Vorbis are both codecs. They're not.

    Secondly, how exactly is it "inconvenient" for "the rest of the population" to deploy something that's available completely free of charge, such as unencumbered media codecs like Vorbis and Dirac?

    OTOH, it is a great inconvenience for GNU/Linux users trying to install non-Free software, for the following important reasons:

    1. Certain non-Free software may not be made available for GNU/Linux at all

    2. It may be available for GNU/Linux only on certain hardware architectures (usually i386), thus precluding optimised builds for AMD64, or precluding use at all on architectures such as ARM

    3. One of the primary benefits of using a GNU/Linux distribution is the fact that its central buildsystem ensures dependencies are sane, security and enhancement patches are deployed in a timely manner, and all software in that distro works well together, without conflicts (DLL hell) and QA issues. Injecting closed source software into such a system effectively breaks that assurance. Regardless of issues like ethics (GNU principles), there are obviously many technical reasons to avoid closed source software as well

    So claiming there is no problem, simply because Flash or WMA have "FREE media players available on ALL the major commercial and open source platforms", is rather disingenuous.

    Finally, this comment completely discredits anything you have to say on the subject:

    "Open Source martyrs"

    Frankly, I think those who allow themselves to be subjugated by proprietary software and DRM are the real martyrs, whereas all I'm trying to do is convince the BBC that everyone else in the industry has probably got it right, and the BBC has got it wrong: DRM is a lost cause, and the interoperability of standards-based solutions is the way forward ... not some unhealthy dependence on a single American company with multiple antitrust convictions.

  • Comment number 28.

    @Boilerplated please go troll elsewhere flash only is not an option because not only is flash primarily for x86 platforms (basically PCs) but it also uses excessive amounts of processing power meaning its a non-starter for embedded devices and phones where battery life is valuable.

    While flash (no hassle for people using browsers) + 1 stream seams fine, the problem is the WMA stream really sucks. I'm no audio snob, but I have always used the more difficult RealPlayer stream (in mplayer) over WMA because even to me the WMA stream seams tinny and generally a bit off*.
    IMO the best solution is to use flash + 1 stream but as flash is easy to use don't feel limited to WMA because its usable by windows media player, instead do a set of tests on various formats RP/WMA/MP3/Vorbis/etc and find which offers a good quality at a low bandwidth.

    *I know this is a common complaint of WMA but it is possible you can work around it a better encoder.

  • Comment number 29.

    #26

    "You seem to understand Open Source"

    Sorry but it is YOU who doesn't understand.

    "Just because the source is available for an encryption tool, that doesn't somehow defeat the encryption. If you think it does, then you're welcome to provide evidence of how easy it is to crack GnuPG keyfiles, for example."

    If the source code, and thus the algorithms, for those keyfiles are not freely available then the software isn't actually open source - it might be made available as Freeware and it might have open source code within the actual software package is open source. If someone is claiming that it is open source then they are doing so wrongly.

    "The kind of "security" you're advocating is not security at all, but /obscurity/,"

    Rubbish, when free players are freely available!

  • Comment number 30.

    28. At 00:10am on 10 Oct 2009, Xbehave wrote:

    "@Boilerplated please go troll elsewhere flash only is not an option because not only is flash primarily for x86 platforms (basically PCs) but it also uses excessive amounts of processing power meaning its a non-starter for embedded devices and phones where battery life is valuable."

    ...and your point in that (abusive) diatribe was what exactly?
    If you CHOOSE to access the web via hand-held devices rather than a 'desktop' or 'laptop' computer (both of which have not problems) you have to accept the limitations of the device, it's called making your choice and living with your choice, don't expect others to make exceptions for your stup... sorry, decisions.

    There are all number of VHF televisions in peoples collections, are you seriously suggesting that the BBC should still be broadcasting their television service on the VHF spectrum, never mind carrying on with the analogue UHF service, want to access the BBC's services then you need to equip yourself with the correct equipment, if that means a x86 platform computer then to so be.

    Never has the old adage - "You can please some of the people all of the time but you can't please all of the people all of the time" - been so true, times change, formats change, platforms change, get over it, move on.

    While flash (no hassle for people using browsers) + 1 stream seams fine, the problem is the WMA stream really sucks. I'm no audio snob, but I have always used the more difficult RealPlayer stream (in mplayer) over WMA because even to me the WMA stream seams tinny and generally a bit off"

    Yes, and Flash is better than either REAL or WMA...

  • Comment number 31.

    @Slated
    You're missing the difference between encryption in general, and DRM specifically.
    With DRM systems the intended recipient is also the potential attacker. If you want to stop someone from ripping a video/audio stream but still allow them to watch it in certain players then you have to supply the decryption key — but still hide it somewhere. This is of course doomed to fail: CSS, AACS, CPPM, Microsoft's Janus — they've all been broken partially or totally (though I believe the most recent iterations of Janus remain secure for the time being). Open source software would be useless in this regard because if you can look at the source you can either see exactly where the key is stored, or better yet compile a new version that helpfully dumps the key in a location of your choosing.
    With GnuPG and the like the person having the decryption key is not going to also be an attacker; so the system remains secure despite the code being open source.
    DRM is a dead-end though (for exactly the above reason), and Real is an outdated format killed off by its horrible, bloated excuse for a player/plugin. The BBC has been the last place I've seen such a stream for a very long time; I'll grant you I don't know the situation for Internet radio hardware though. A poll of the top 9 best-selling devices on Amazon however has them all claiming support for WMA — one notably claimed no support for Real formats.
    Also, because this has been bugging me throughout the comments. Flash is not a streaming format in itself. RTMP was developed for Flash, but within that protocol both MP3 and AAC are valid; AAC I believe can be either raw, or within an MPEG-4 Part 12 based container (MP4, or 3GP mostly). Outside of RTMP content can also be streamed over HTTP, and there are a few more codecs beyond MP3 and AAC that are supported in the full Flash Player. It's worse frankly than calling Ogg a codec. :P

  • Comment number 32.

    Also, why did the preview show single line breaks with a clear space between paragraphs when the posted version doesn't.

    Please imagine I intended for my paragraphs to be spaced like this, and the preview assured me that was what would happen.

  • Comment number 33.

    @Slated: AFAIK Dirac is a video codec, not for audio.

    I don't quite understand why the focus seems to be on DRM here. As some have pointed out, that doesn't appear to currently be stopping the BBC (and hundreds of other radio stations) streaming without DRM right now, and the current trend (thankfully) is moving away from this silly notion that you can control distribution of protected media. It can't be done; not with closed source and not with open source...at least not without causing severe disruption to consumers and/or excessively violating civil rights.

    @Boilerplated: You show a very selfish disregard for anybody who does not share your narrow view of computers as mere commercial appliances, and you base your arguments on the idea that the BBC should behave just like any other commercial entity in basing such decisions on current "market" conditions regarding market shares for platforms and the most typically used classes of device.

    I do not agree that the BBC, as a *public service*, and enjoying various associated privileges (i.e. the license fee is not, in all practicality, "optional", unless somebody _truly_ is being a "martyr" over the issue) should be this exclusive in it's provisions for small group requirements.

    Seriously, how much could it cost to add Vorbis as a streaming format? One assumes that there is some modularity in the software that takes the original uncompressed audio and pipes it out into different streams. So there is a small nominal setup cost for adding a "module" there to encode to a Vorbis stream. The codec has no royalty costs and the encoding stage only has to occur once to accommodate any number of listeners, so there is a tiny static computational cost plus a (relatively) small storage cost for the output from which streams are then buffered.

    Total bandwidth costs are no different because there is no reason for a single listener to read from multiple stream formats...or if the addition of an open codec stream encourages additional listeners then surely that is still a good (if intangible) ROI for a broadcaster. Do you really begrudge a few pence of your license fee to accommodate people with a more idealistic vision of technology than yourself?

    It might be difficult to estimate the size of the affected group here, but let's try. Consider all the users of low-powered mobile devices (for which flash is not well-suited) plus users of non-proprietary software - between 1% and 4% (according to different sources) in your "martyr" class - plus a good few percent who share that ideal but are unable/unwilling to switch to open platforms full-time because of issues just like this one.

    Now consider also that each license payer is a "household" comprising more than one person. The number of affected license payers is thus much greater than the percentage of affected users. Even with the most conservative estimations, most likely we are talking about over one hundred million pounds in license fees where people's technology preferences are not being sufficiently met with these proposals.

    Yes, we will "make do" and accommodate the BBC in such matters if we value their broadcasts, but really it ought to be the other way around when you consider the privileged social and financial position of the BBC as a public service.

  • Comment number 34.

    I've been using hardware players (Logitech Squeezeboxes) for five years. I've listened to the BBC live streams and listen again facility mainly via plugins made for the player due to the BBC decisions to use the proprietry Real format. When the decision to use Real was being investigated I wrote in and asked that the open source mp3 format should be considered, pointing out that using a proprietry format did not sit comfortably with the BBCs "open" public access remit. Since then the BBCs service for hardware players has been absolutely appalling and entirely coloured my view of the corporation. Even a simple thing like reliably organising the XML file for the listen again streams has seemed beyond them.

    The decision to use the proprietary Flash is just another in a long line of poor decisions. After the Squeezeboxes I use the iPhone most for listening to the BBC streams. The iPhone and improving smart phones will bring smart hand-held devices into the main streams quickly, and like me other will find that they use PCs and laptops less and their handhelds much more. For the BBC to choose Flash at this time seems particularly mad.

    What is it with the BBC? Are they just attracted to bloat and excess? Both Real and Flash are inefficient, fat formats controlled by large American corporations. As others have pointed out above, anyone who wants to can rip the BBC streams *whatever format they are broadcast in*. In addition I *should* be able to listen to BBC content whenever I want to (and not just up to 7 days after it is first broadcast). The BBC should be aiming to ensure that they provide this facility, not attempting to lock it down.

    I used to think that the BBC was the one thing left in the the UK that was truly great but the corporation has lost its way in the last five years and I feel that the way it has dealt with online broadcasting is just one indication of its decline. It's very sad.

  • Comment number 35.

    @boilerplated


    >>"Internet radio devices are not an old-fashioned technology."

    >Yes it is if it uses a deprecated format and Real is one such codec/formate.



    I don't know of any internet radio devices that support only RealAudio.

    In general they support a wide variety of streaming technologies - but support for RTMP is very rare (given that the specification was only officially published mid-2009 this should not be a surprise and was certainly known by BBC).

    Even if the radios had support for RTMP - that route is not endorsed by BBC for direct access (doesn't mean it can't be made to work - cf the 3rd-party add-on for Logitech Squeezebox users).

    My point is not that BBC must keep Real for all time - but that the way that this has been implemented for BBC Local Radio has been bad. The updated RealAudio-based Listen Again content has been removed without making an alternate direct streaming version readily available.
    It appears to have been an unplanned consequence of the decision to move - but once the side-effects were seen there was no switch back. So it means no content for 5 weeks already and no prospect of it before the end of October.

  • Comment number 36.

    Two quick points.

    Firstly Flash being closed because the major viewer is commercial makes as much sense as saying HTML was closed 20 years ago when all the browsers were commercial.
    The full specs are available here: http://www.openscreenproject.org/about/publications.html

    Secondly the main audio format used inside flash is MP3. RTMP is a bit of a pain but you're not required to use it so the decision there is up to the BBC.

  • Comment number 37.

    @rasmithuk: That was not always the case and the problems with flash extend well beyond it's proprietary nature. It makes some sense if the BBC wanted to use flash as a convenient wrapper/interface, suitable for many users in addition to offering plain audio streams, but it is the idea that "flash is cross-platform so it meets that requirement" that is objectionable.

    Also, both MP3 and RTMP are proprietary, protected protocols, which is the difference in your analogy to HTML 20 years ago. Though Adobe may have opened the RTMP spec in June, it was only the month beforehand (21st May) that they filed a DMCA removal request against an open implementation hosted on Sourceforge).

    The point is that these proprietary protocols are very damaging to open community-based development and it's greatly disheartening when upon providing the world with free, open alternatives, even public-funded organisations like the BBC, which used to be (relatively) socially responsible, community focused and inclusive of minority interests, will not implement them.

  • Comment number 38.

    Hi,

    For the last 15 years I've been doing my bit for Blighty by trying to spread British culture throughout France. While over the years this has required much sacrifice (forcing me to live abroad, often forgoing chip-butties, mushy peas and vindaloos for months at a time), I have, with much help from the BBC, been able to show the positive side of the UK during difficult political times. While my contribution is only a drop in the ocean I am but one of many Brits who have taken it upon themselves to promote the UK around the globe.

    Unquestionably the best innovation in recent times to help us in our quest was streaming radio and the on-demand feature provided by the BBC. Could the BBC please clarify what the impact of removing RealAudio will be? Will it still be possible from my French cultural converts to listen to the Today program every morning on the internet or will they just go back to listening to French radio destroying the fruit of my 15-year struggle?

  • Comment number 39.

    @BobBoring - in the post we mention that Windows Media audio is available globally. The previous mixed solution of some streams being available to UK audiences only in Windows Media has been eradicated.

    If we turn off RealMedia there must be an alternative for those listeners - the alternative is Windows Media. No devices only support RealMedia codecs. Windows Media is a commonly supported alternative, which also comes with an infrastructure that is clear and scalable for all our listeners.

    We are committed to a mixed economy of formats because of the differences in platforms that our audiences use. We prioritise these in terms of RQIV.

    Alan Ogilvie
    BBC Audio & Music, Interactive Platform Producer (IP)

  • Comment number 40.

    I'm another internet radio user (Logitech, Roku and Tangent). My main concern is that I get the highest possible quality, reliable audio stream on these boxes.

    What makes the BBC choose AAC/AAC+ in a flash wrapper for a desktop browser and WMA for direct streams? Why not have AAC/AAC+ for both?

    I'm just puzzled by this. I'm not trying stir up controversy or conflict with anyone, simply trying to understand the advantage gained by using WMA for the direct streams instead of AAC.

  • Comment number 41.

    This isn't good news for Nokia owners for whom the iPlayer site isn't available. For example, it means that I'll no longer be able to listen to Radio 5 live on my E52.

  • Comment number 42.

    Hi folks, and good luck with efforts to improve feed quality.
    I've a question though.
    Will it be possible to play the windows media feeds in Windows Media Player itself and to create a playlist of "Listen Again" selections.

    Cheers!

  • Comment number 43.

    Further to .43 above, I'll add that I'm overseas, and listen to R4 primarily.

  • Comment number 44.

    Although it's not officially supported by the BBC, I can heartily recommend BBCStreams. They broadcast all national and local radio stations in .asx format, which is accessible on many mobile phones (either natively or with Coreplayer Mobile installed), and on the iPhone (they have a dedicated app planned).

    Even better, their streams are available internationally :)

    There's more info available here: http://www.allaboutiphone.net/2009/10/live-bbc-radio-even-outside-of-the-uk-there-could-be-an-app-for-that/

  • Comment number 45.

    Oh please.

    I listen to the Beeb every day on my Reciva standalone internet radio. I am living in exile in Finland and this chance to listen to Radio 4 is the one lifeline to the country of my birth. Dropping support for Real & moving over to a flash based player will make my internet radio obsolete & break an important connection to the UK. In these worrying times, you cannot appreciate how comforting it is to be able to tune into the worlds finest radio station..

  • Comment number 46.

    Oh why oh why. At present, it's so simple - I save the .rm link to the Monday 18:30 Radio 4 comedy and others (and can work out the URLs for the others) - I simply load that into Realplayer on my Nokia N95, and it works flawlessly - and works portably and around the house on loudspeaker.

    It just works, and works effortlessly. Why ruin it?

  • Comment number 47.

    Real Media streams now disappeared from National Station !.... DOH!

  • Comment number 48.

    And today a 'low bandwidth' 48KHz AAC option appeared on BBC 7 Listen again. This will NOT work (for more than 5 seconds) on a mediocre dial up connection. REAL used to work fine! Can I assume the BBC will not longer support customers who have limited connectivity.

  • Comment number 49.

    I originally posted this on a James Cridland Thread, since I have discovered he has left the BBC I am reposting here for Mark's comment.

    The low bandwidth links have gone again from live streaming for national sites, and on the few occasions I've seen them, (on BBC R7) they link to the same source i.e. 128kbps mp3 embedded in flash.

    The question how does someone who has dial up access listen to the live and play again streams which used to work so well with Real Player, albeit at a lower quality? That was better than what we have now - nothing? I have on one occasion seen a 48kbps aac feed, but that will not play consistently. As you are in charge of this project can you please consider why your people cannot provide suitable alternatives before they remove what WAS a VERY GOOD service

  • Comment number 50.

    I wanted to just refer a few of you to the 'Further Help' section of the post - the stream links for current RealMedia and Windows Media streams can be found in the 'Where can I find...' FAQs.

    My reports suggest that Reciva based devices can listen to Radio 4 live and listen again, even in Finland. ;-) Reciva have a very good customer forum that you might like to have a look through, or contact their customer support if you are still unable to access the streams.

    I'm going to be posting an update soon on our relationship with Internet Radio devices.

    I also see a couple of comments around the new 48kbps Flash simulcast streams - if you could include in your comments information about specific devices, and you might like to test your connection speed. If you have specific issues - check the help section mentioned in the post.

  • Comment number 51.

    In reply to Alan Ogilvie,
    I sometimes can only use a dial up connection, the device is a PC. I am very aware of all your help pages. I appreciate the references to the Real streams, that are to exist until March 2010, but there is not a similar help page for play again services. I have been trying to use the "low bandwidth" options for both "listen again" and "live" services from Radio 7 and local radio stations. When Real streams were present they played reliably over a dial up service, even if at 21 kbps .
    I have just tested using the low bandwidth option on Radio 7 live feed which is 48kbps aac, this would not play for more than 5 seconds before waiting for 30seconds just buffering and telling me I had insufficient bandwidth.
    My dial up sync speed was 49.2 kbps, BBC iplayer diagnostics showed 36kbps download. I accessed the "hidden" soon to be discontinued live Real stream via the links in the help area, which played the same service reliably at 21kbps.
    With respect can I suggest you get a technical person to test the replacement options for Real on a Dial up modem. BEFORE the hidden streams are ceased. Posting the results on this blog, would prove you have a reliable replacement for the low bandwidth Real services.

  • Comment number 52.

    I am a great fan of BBC online radio for a number of years and mostly enjoy listening to BBC7 and 4 "listen again" streams of radio dramas - mostly with a mobile device, an older PDA or newer smart phone. It is a wonderful service you offer! Even though the comfort of using "listen again" on a PC might have increased by the iPlayer, I think, the average time it takes me to navigate to a stream I want on a PDA has actually increased. But I got used to it. However I am very sad that now I am cut of completely from "Listen Again" (on mobile devices) since the 22nd of October (as Flash does not work -yet? - on the smart phone outside of the UK). But now I just learned from your post, that the national radio listen again streams should still exist in real media somewhere. How can I find them?
    (I hope the WMA streams will be accessible from the iPlayer on the mobile devices?)

  • Comment number 53.

    @ragnar

    beebotron.org is your friend.

  • Comment number 54.

    @Dark-Avised: Yes it is! Thank you!

  • Comment number 55.

    Would someone from the BBC like to reply to my thread in line 51. Beebotron is an alternative but is not BBC supported nor is it reliable. Real Stream links often give 404 errors.

  • Comment number 56.

    When the WMA listen-again streams become available, I hope to see them linked from the iPlayer pages in text-only mode, as the Real streams used to be. If not already part of the plan, the BBC should seriously consider the suggestion.

  • Comment number 57.

    Hi - Maybe I got this all wrong, but why is it that, if you are phasing out RealMedia, for instance here:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qyt7/episodes/player
    (further down the page) there are only rm files to download - since last Thursday, apparently?
    I've looked around a bit before posting, but found no mention of it.
    I've never used RM and won't start now if I can help it (it used to be considered unsafe/ something of a datamonger, but that is beside the point), so I don't know how to make it work, nor do I care much.
    I just wonder how or when I can get to listen in IPlayer (which is very simple to use and works perfectly most of the time) to the features that are currently marked RM, and why that is if you are phasing RM out.
    Thank you!

  • Comment number 58.

    iplayer is now crashing any browser I try to listen to it on. Iplayer has been all but useless for the last 2 weeks. Everywhere I go on the message boards there are people complaining of not being able to access iPlayer, yet no service announcements from the BBC. so it is just a coincidence that we all have problems at the same time? All I get is instructions to waste huge amounts of time checking things on my computer. My computer is fine. As is the router. We have 3 computers in this house, some wi-fi some not.
    I get my broadband from Talktalk, am on Windows XP and have cleared the cache.

  • Comment number 59.

    Mark, Ian, Karl

    If I was the director of BBC Radio Labs and someone came to me with these proposed changes, I would push back and say that I want any changes to be within the context of a coherent long-term strategy, which I do not see. Instead I see a short-term approach based on various proprietary media players. I would suggest that the following are important strategic considerations for the BBC

    (1) people want to consume BBC media on a variety of hardware platforms (e.g. mobile, home media centers, Squeezeboxes etc) not just on PCs

    (2) It is in the BBC's interest not to be locked into proprietary formats that require matching client/server software. Decoupling client and server software will lead to more competition and clients that run on many types of different platforms. This can be achieved by using standards-based protocols, container formats and codecs.

    Note that standards-based (e.g. IETF, ISO, W3C) software/protocols are not necessarily free as there may be patent pools/royalties that need to be dealt with (e.g. H.264), with the cost being bundled into some hardware or software component. Whether an implementation is open source is not really relevant here - what matters is that the BBC and the public can choose software from many vendors (which may or may not be free). It is fine to support Flash/WMP etc in addition to standards-based media streaming and download, but not instead of it.

    A more devious reading of the situation is that there is indeed a long-term strategy, but that it involves the BBC always having control of the client and the user experience (for branding/licensing etc.) and is using Flash/WMP facilitate this. To me this conflicts with the stated core values of "reach", "impact" and "value".

    The BBC is an unusual organization and one that in many cases can lead the way for other broadcasters that have less resources and more restrictive business models. Imagine if Vodafone said that from now on in order to make a phone call you needed to download or use a product from either Microsoft or Adobe and that they were no longer going to support a standards based interface for making a phone call. Needless to say this wouldn't fly - why should it be different for the BBC?

    The whole history of Internet video protocols and codecs is a sorry mess, but the BBC should be in the vanguard of those high profile organizations that promote standards-based solutions, not promoting proprietary ones.

  • Comment number 60.

    There still seems to be no statement regarding the BBC's attitude/policy regarding internet media devices, especially those known as internet radios.

    Perhaps it can be implied by the non-response to several current internet radio related posts on the iPlayer Forum and the regular adverts for DAB radios carried on the air which fail to mention internet based devices.

    In case there is any doubt, internet devices are capable of far higher quality than DAB. Of course, at the moment BBC streams are hobbled listening quality is degraded. Room for further implication?

    Anyway ... response regarding the above please.

  • Comment number 61.

    Latest update on WMA listen-again streams in a new post

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radiolabs/2009/12/wma_listen_again.shtml

  • Comment number 62.

    Would someone from the BBC please address the points raised by dowsecj in post 51, which is now over 2 months old without any response or proposed solution!
    Also I just learned of and eagerly tried out the new .wma/.asx listen again links only to discover that was even worse than the so-called "low bandwidth" iplayer option, apparently running at 90-something Kbps.
    Please assure us dialup users that we will be offered a SERVICEABLE alternative to RealPlayer before it is phased out in March, or, as many others have already said of so many recent BBC internet "innovations", "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

  • Comment number 63.

    I think when BBC cut down the Real Media Streaming Service, they don't think of the user that mostly want to hear radio on the mobile. Because most mobile do only provide RealPlayer only, I don't seen that Windows Media and Flash is a suitable choice to replace Real Media.

    The Flash version of BBC Radio Player a not open format and quality of sound is a bit poor not stable as Real Media do. For me my suggestion is make BBC Radio available on SHOUTcast. Absolute Radio are also available their broadcast on it and also BBC World Service. It is a open and fair choice, to make BBC Radio is wide-open to audience and cost-effective for the BBC or the license fee payer.

    If it is not a good way to make a big change, then BBC should open the real resource link to us. Flash based BBC iPlayer are using AAC/MP3 at the background and using HTTP Protocol, BBC should provide a way let us to choice our own Player to play the content. eg. iTunes, RealPlayer, Winamp.

  • Comment number 64.

    Following up on previous comments, I was overjoyed when all local BBC radio station links were updated on the wifiradio-frontier portal.
    Output is WMA at 44kbps. Reliability : good (was expecting excellent).
    However, my joy was [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] short-lived : after trying out the ones I regularly listen to (typically, BBC Radio Newcastle and BBC Radio York), this is what I experienced. After the first drop-out (usually after 10 min.), my internet radio device goes into a tailspin and is unable to reconnect. The only way of recovering play is by doing a reboot (pulling out the plug or by pressing reset).
    It is driving me round the bend.
    I dread the moment when the national RA radio streams will be phased out and replaced by WMA, unless issue has been resolved.
    At this stage I do not know whether this is a software related problem or due to a faulty audio stream.
    I have no problem playing the live programmes on my PC.
    What was billed as an improvement is turning into a bit of a nightmare.


  • Comment number 65.

    @ 62
    Agreed.
    @ BBC Radio Labs
    Is there no way the BBC could hold off phasing out the Real Audio live and on demand streams until the WMA problems are fixed for those who listen on internet devices other than the computer (i.e. who use anything but iPlayer)?

  • Comment number 66.

    There's a big difference in volume level between Realplayer and WMA streams, for listening on small devices where speakers are small currently Realplayer is considerably louder than WMA. Can the level of WMA be increased slightly before Realplayer ceases altogether??

  • Comment number 67.

    Thousands upon thousands of us who bought internet radios will suffer from the decision to ditch Realplayer.

    This is because the WMA streams will not allow us to pause/rewind/play etc., and will go back to the start when we turn the radio back on. If you are listening to anything over 15 minutes, this renders Listen Again - and the radios - practically useless. I bought five of these sets for the Listen Again function and to avoid having a laptop on my bedside cabinet and kitchen units. I've told so many people that "internet radios are the way forward, much better than DAB", but this decision is likely to set back internet radio years.

    Can someone at the BBC confirm that these functions will be available on the WMA streams for the hundreds of thousands of Reciva radio owners? If not, this is a MASSIVE oversight by the BBC and a complete disaster for many of us.

    I've also emailed Reciva, and hope that they and you are talking to one another on this.

    Come on BBC, you are supposed to be providing an improved service, not a downgrade which causes us a very expensive headache!

  • Comment number 68.

    While flash (no hassle for people using browsers) + 1 stream seams fine, the problem is the WMA stream really sucks. I`m no audio snob, but I have always used the more difficult RealPlayer stream (in mplayer) over WMA because even to me the WMA stream seams tinny and generally a bit off*.
    IMO the best solution is to use flash + 1 stream but as flash is easy to use don't feel limited to WMA because its usable by windows media player, instead do a set of tests on various formats RP/WMA/MP3/Vorbis/etc and find which offers a good quality at a low bandwidth.

  • Comment number 69.

    Please see the new FAQ that has been put up, listing links to all the ways to listen online.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/listenonline/

  • Comment number 70.

    Canceling Real feeds? Great now I'm losing the best way to listen to BBC, 'thanks'...

  • Comment number 71.

    Its a shame the Realmedia streams are off.

    You do not need to be an expert to know these things, just good ears.

    Realaudio sounded better! anytime. everywhere! What would it cost the BBC, to keep it going ? alongside the tweeny flash ones being introduced ?

    :sad.

  • Comment number 72.

    Are there any plans to add a caching ability to iPlayer? I've always used RealPlayer to listen to BBC programs because it cached the content locally. In my job I often have to VPN into customer systems, and this drops my internet connection. With the RealPlayer caching I was able to continue listening to the program. With iPlayer the program just stops.

    The other nice feature with RealPlayer was the ability to pause live programs. Another feature missing from iPlayer, because of the lack of caching.

  • Comment number 73.

    So, it seems Real Audio is at last disappearing from Radio 3. What a shame. I deplore anything with the word "Windows" in it so WMV streams would not be an adequate substitute, even if the quality was as good, which it isn't. Nor, indeed, does iPlayer work reliably: it's not the BBC's fault, it's Virgin's cable which (so they tell me) typically runs at 97% of its capacity. This means for prolonged periods, iPlayer does not work at all and at others freezes.

    I guess it's back to off-air timer recordings for me!

  • Comment number 74.

    Real player is no longer available. We live on an isolated hill farm with neither broadband nor 3g & our dial up is fairly poor. However we could listen to 24kbps real player satisfactorily. At 44kbps wma is unavailable. Where may I go to lobby for some alteration to this system? As a busy farmer I simply am unable to listen to wonderful programmes like "In our time" when they are broadcast so am now totally deprived. Downloading is out of the question due to poor coverage.

  • Comment number 75.

    The BBC Trust is running a consultation how on the way the BBC makes its content and programmes available on-demand (such as via the BBC iPlayer).

    The starting assumption for this review is that the BBC must control, and so must develop, every player for every platform.

    Can I suggest that anyone interested in open standards complete the survey and disabuse them of this notion?

    Please take the opportunity to point out that, as a public service broadcaster, the BBC shouldn’t be developing a few proprietary, closed, commercial solutions.

    The consultation can be found at:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/consultations/departments/bbc/on-demand-syndication/consultation/consult_view

  • Comment number 76.

    Are millions of stand alone British designed Internet Radios now redundant? (it is now 'listen again if you are very lucky'!)

    I now cannot fast forward, rewind listen again so any short connection drop means I only get the first 10 minutes or so repeatedly!
    I bought my internet radio from Marks and Spencers especially for BBC listen again, Mainly Radio 4 and the World Service.

    The full irony here is that my Marks and Spencer Radio has hardware by Frontier Silicon, a British company!

    And now you create a dedicated app for the iPhone whilst making dedicated British products for discerning listeners redundant.
    Madness indeed especially considering Real Audio worked.

    I bought my M & S Radio Internet at Xmas. It also has DAB so there is gets some use but the now redundant for me wifi Radio is just very very sad.

 

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