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BBC iPlayer gets a little more radio

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James Cridland James Cridland | 07:09 UK time, Tuesday, 9 June 2009

As regulars of the BBC iPlayer Radio message board will be aware, I'm currently looking after the BBC iPlayer for all of BBC Radio. We've a wealth of great content, and I'm keen to make it even easier to find, play and share the great radio programmes you can hear on the BBC.

BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra was an odd experience on the BBC iPlayer: while you could listen to the station live, you were unable to listen again. There were a host of reasons for this - some related to sports rights, some related to our technical infrastructure, and some related to even more boring things than those two. (Yes, there are even more boring things than rights and infrastructure. You'll have to trust me on this).

Anyway, a few weeks ago, we made history by making on-demand programmes available for BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra for the very first time. You're now able to listen-again to Test Match Special and our Formula One coverage for seven days after transmission. So, if you missed a great interview after yet another UK win on Formula One, or a great catch in TMS, then I'm pleased to let you know that we've made the unmissable... unmissable.

There are more things planned for the BBC iPlayer's radio content shortly, as some long-term projects reach their welcome conclusion. I look forward to letting you know about them as soon as I can.


  • Comment number 1.


    What month in 2009 will we be able to hear BBC Local radio online without downloading Real Player at 128k aac+ ?

    If you do not know personally can you track someone in the BBC who may know?

  • Comment number 2.

    rangersman's question is the big one that I know many people want answered. So, James, BBC Local Radio streaming with no Real Player in 2009? Should we hold our breath?

  • Comment number 3.

    Neil (rangersman) - I know exactly when BBC Local Radio will move away from RealPlayer; but I also know that you'll spare no time in kicking me if it doesn't deliver exactly on that date, so therefore, I plan to keep quiet.

    However, I think it might be safe to say that the answer to nodmonkey's question is "yes".

  • Comment number 4.

    I can understand technical glitches can hold something up so no reason to keep quiet, I will say though any plans to deliver less than 128k and I advise to save my licence fee and stick with the current real player for those who like slight improvement on medium wave.

    I really can not see the point in not doing a job properly. I'll make do with my 400 existing wonderful favourites on my winamp player at 128k Mp3 and aac+,any quality less than that and it is dismissed on my winamp shoutcast search even if the content is terrific.
    I am a huge Tony Blackburn fan but his stations do not deliver quality audio so I have to go without in principal!!!!!!
    I cant wait to hear Tony on BBC London here in torquay at 128aac+ if the BBC do the right thing and acknowledge not only TV deserves HD quality!!!!!

  • Comment number 5.

    I also think if 128k aac + cant be introduced on listen again,you may as well make the service surplus to requirements

  • Comment number 6.


    James I have just come across this on the message boards?

    Are you against 128k AAC+ for BBC radio online because it would show up how poor Dab is?
    Just curious because Steve from www.digitalradiotech.co.uk does put up a fair point?

  • Comment number 7.

    Cheers for your comments, Neil. Steve's wrong: we have no such bias.

  • Comment number 8.

    Ok I can accept that,I also hope that you do not see me as some sort of crank in wanting 128k or above maybe more than the average BBC listener.
    I do not listen through pc speakers,I use my Hi-fi which demands the very best sound. JazzFM & Radio Jackie use 128k aac+ now and I adore it.

  • Comment number 9.

    James, if the BBC isn't extremely biased towards DAB and extremely biased against Internet radio then you'll be able to provide explanations for all of the following. If you can't provide explanations for why the following all point to the BBC being biased then there is only one logical conclusion.

    * the BBC has shown 21 TV advertising campaigns for DAB whereas the BBC has shown *zero* TV ad campaigns for Internet radio

    * the BBC co-funds the DRDB (Digital Radio Development Bureau), yet the DRDB's remit is to *only* promote DAB, and the DRDB is actively opposed to Internet radio. The BBC's Director of Radio Tim Davie is the Vice Chair of the DRDB and other BBC executives sit on the DRDB's board, so the BBC can hardly plead ignorance about what the DRDB does, and what the DRDB does is use licence-fee payers' money in a biased way.

    * The BBC has reduced the bit rates of the on-demand Internet radio streams from 128 to 96 kbps, yet the following month the BBC launched brand new HD iPlayer TV streams that are using a bit rate of 3,200 kbps, and the existing iPlayer TV streams had their bit rates increased from 500 to 800 kbps and from 800 to 1500 kbps

    * You wrote on numerous occasions last year that you wanted to deliver the live Internet radio streams at lower quality than the on-demand Internet radio streams. You attempted to "justify" doing this by saying that live radio was also available via FM, DAB and the digital TV platforms. However, your "justification" was being biased against the live Internet radio streams by the very definition of the word "biased". Either it's technically possible and economically feasible to deliver the live streams at the same quality as the on-demand streams or it is not, and the obvious fact is that it is possible to do that, therefore the comments you made showed that the BBC was being biased against the live Internet radio streams. It just so happens that the live Internet radio streams are the streams that the BBC considers to be the biggest threat to DAB. And we're supposed to believe that it was just an amazing coincidence that the BBC wanted to nobble the quality of those streams??

    * As things have transpired, the BBC has delayed launching higher quality live Internet radio streams for the last year. The quality improvements were meant to be launched in June last year immediately after the quality improvements had taken place for the on-demand Internet radio streams. Are we supposed to believe that it's just an amazing coincidence that you repeatedly said last year that you wanted to deliver the live streams at lower quality than the on-demand streams, and that is *precisely* what you have achieved by delaying the launch of the higher quality streams??? What kind of mugs do you take us for exactly?

    * The BBC makes it as difficult as possible to access the Internet radio streams on mobile phones, yet the BBC Controller in charge of digital radio recently said that he really wanted to get DAB integrated on Nokia mobile phones.

    * The BBC has excluded the live Internet radio streams from the BBC iPlayer widget for mobile phones, yet the BBC desperately wants to get DAB included on mobile phones.

    * The ex-BBC Controller in charge of digital radio said on Radio 4 Feedback that "Of course the BBC would prefer it if everybody listened to digital radio via DAB" - hardly leaves a great deal of doubt about which platform the BBC favours....

    * The BBC was the main player in the Digital Radio Working Group (DRWG), which recommended to government that DAB should become the main digital radio platform in the UK and that Internt radio should be excluded from the long-term plans for digital radio. The BBC Controller in charge of digital radio was the Chair of the Technology sub-group within the DRWG whose work it was to supposedly investigate alternative digital platforms to DAB, yet when he presented teh sub-group's findings he included a list of drawbacks for Internet radio that quite simply didn't exist at all, then later in the year he admitted at a radio conference that they hadn't even bothered to investigate how much it would cost to distribute digitail radio via WiMAX, which many consider to be the main alternative platform to DAB. Put simply, the BBC's participation in the DRWG showed that the BBC is more than willing to act completely against the interests of licence-fee payers because what would be in their best interests didn't line up with what the BBC as an organisation wanted. Er, we pay for the BBC, James, so the BBC should never act against the interests of licence-fee payers.

    * The BBC delivered the Internet radio streams over the period from 2003 to mid 2007 at literally diabolical audio quality levels due to the use of 32 kbps for the Internet streams for Radios 1, 2 and 4, yet just a few months after the BBC was still using 32 kbps for the radio streams the BBC iPlayer was launched, which consisted of the iPlayer TV streams using a bit rate of 500 kbps. The iPlayer TV streams bit rates were increased to 800 kbps the year after, and thsi year HD iPlayer TV streams have been launched at a bit rate of 3200 kbps.

    * The BBC had the opportunity to use the AAC+ audio codec for the Internet radio streams from January 2004 onwards to markedly improve their audio quality without even having to increase the bit rate levels. But of course the BBC is still delivering the live streams at low quality using Real Player. So the BBC has now spent the last five and a half years delivering its live Internet radio streams using the dire Real G2 audio codec for no good reason.

    * The BBC "transcoded" the audio for the Internet radio streams for 6 years up till last autumn, which is a practice that it's fair to describe as being audio butchery. The BBC transcoded the audio in order to avoid spending about £5000 - £10000 per annum for a leased line to transport the audio to the Internet servers in Maidenhead. This was at a time when the BBC was spending at least £10 million per annum transmitting its stations via DAB, and the BBC is now spending about £14 million per annum transmitting on DAB, and this could rise to as much as £70 million per annum if the BBC extends its national DAB multiplex to "universal" coverage levels. Whoever is in charge of allocating economic resources for digital radio needs to buy a new calculator, James, wouldn't you agree?

    * Despite being founder members of the Internet Media Device Alliance, and the IMDA's purpose is to ensure that broadcasters' streams and Internet radios are compatible, most of the Internet radio devices in the shops at the moment are receiving the BBC's Internet radio streams in the Real Player format even though the WMA streams are at higher quality and they've been available for the last 9 or 10 months. At the time I had my concerns about the BBC's involvement with the IMDA, because if past history is any guide to the future then the BBC willl use its power to block the progress of Internet radio from within the IMDA (but acting as though butter wouldn't melt throughout), and up to now my concerns look to have been vindicated.

  • Comment number 10.

    Steve, If you antagonise James I know from past experience he will go out of his way to delay things just to show who is boss.
    James banned me from his media uk forums even though he probably agreed with my content on his forums,he knew he had to go with the majority of his anoraks on his forum, so I lost my right to post.

  • Comment number 11.

    Forgot to mention that the live streams have supposedly been "testing" since February, even though performance testing should take no longer than 2 - 3 weeks, therefore the BBC "testing" the higher quality live streams for 4 months now is obviously a case of the BBC deliberately keeping the quality of the live streams as low as possible for as long as possible -- something they've been doing for the last 5 and a half years, so no change there.

  • Comment number 12.

    Now that the BBC can offer sport on demand, is it likely that we will be able to listen to sports events on demand that haven't been broadcast on 5 live or Sports Extra, such as football matches featured on Match of the Day?

    How much is this on demand sports coverage costing the licence payer?

    It would be great if some of the sports events were in stereo, so they sounded like they do on the TV. Could this be looked into for internet streams?

  • Comment number 13.

    I live in Vancouver Canada and i am an active listener of bbc. Recently i bought HTC dream that runs on Android OS.Whenever i try to listen to BBC on my mobile device through my WIFI network at home, it gives an error: "install missing plugins/install real player". Since i cannot find real player versoin that supports Android system, is there any other alternative to that? OR is there any android version of BBC iplayer?
    please help

  • Comment number 14.

    Question for James..
    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 15.

    I just spotted a glorious little advert for Hot Water Bottles i was wondering If the BBC would ever consider bringing in Adverts?


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