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The future of audio: the UK Radioplayer

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Tim Davie Tim Davie | 10:46 UK time, Thursday, 19 November 2009

Today I have been at the Media Festival in Manchester talking about The Future of Audio. My speech followed the announcement this morning of the industry-wide UK Radioplayer and I was delighted to show the audience this mocked-up demo of how the player might look and work:

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It's a really exciting development and a result of focused, collaborative thinking within the radio industry. It's a simple, compelling proposition for listeners, and I would welcome any comments on the project. In my speech, I argued that projects that lead digital innovation - like the Radioplayer - are essential if the audio market is to remain strong, but they must go hand in hand with unique, challenging and thought-provoking programmes which make the most of radio's unique ability to push creative boundaries. Here are a few examples:
Radio 4's The History of the World in 100 Objects, which airs early next year: a hugely ambitious project involving a partnership with the British Museum and with scores of museums across the country.
Jeremy Vine's Radio 2 show focuses on dementia all next week, looking at a number of issues ranging from quality of care to how sufferers may be open to financial abuse.
Radio 1's Newsbeat will visit Afghanistan in December, reporting not only from Camp Bastion but also from within a US Marine Forward Operating Base, and building on the station's deeply impressive record in reporting the realities and implications of the conflict.
Radio 3's end-of-year programming around its four Composers of the Year, with a rather special New Year's Eve when guests as varied as Fiona Shaw, Sting and John Sessions will reveal their own thoughts of the composers, followed by live debate.
• And cutting-edge comedy on Radio 4 in News at Bedtime, a rather different type of news analysis programme as it covers events via the world of nursery rhymes and fairy tales. The seven-part satirical series will be hosted by John Tweedledum (played by Jack Dee) and John Tweedledee (Peter Capaldi) and is written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman.

capaldi_dee.jpg Finally, I explained how we are developing our audio archive so that we can provide resources of enormous and lasting value. For instance, next year we will launch a new In Our Time archive that will be available for anyone who wants to access a full 11 years of quite superb broadcasts on the History of Ideas, featuring everything from Schopenhauer to the death of Elizabeth I. Quite brilliant and utterly unique. But if you can't wait until then, you can enjoy Melvyn Bragg's latest programme here.

(Tim Davie is Director of BBC Audio & Music)


  • Comment number 1.

    Interesting development

    Existing UK companies are providing directories of UK (and the world) stations - with access to On Demand content - e.g. Reciva, Frontier Silicon and Pure.
    Do you see this as competetion to those existing offerings?
    Will they get equal access to the content and descriptions (like they do today with the BBC XML that is closely tied to iPlayer)?

  • Comment number 2.

    Looks great to me. Development in totally the right direction.

  • Comment number 3.

    I cant get excited by this until decent sound quality is widely available for the radio stations.

    Smooth radio is 64k wma..crap sound....BBC Local is 80k mp3 rubbish. no point having a pretty player with crap audio!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  • Comment number 4.

    That's interesting. Can someone at BBC towers explain the difference between UKRadioPlayer and initiatives like Canvas and Kangaroo which the Trust, Oh blessed be it's infinite wisdom, and the commercial competition got chopped. On what basis was agreement between the various broadcaster's achieved for UKRadioPlayer to get the go-ahead.

  • Comment number 5.

    No. 4

    (Canvas hasn't been chopped)

    The difference between the UK Radioplayer and Canvas or Kangaroo is BSkyB, (who don't really have vested interest in radio).

  • Comment number 6.

    Many thanks for your comments on this topic. I've spoken to Michael Hill, the technical project leader on the Radioplayer, and the following are his responses to each question raised:

    To PaulWebster:
    We see this as complementary to existing offerings, for two important reasons. 1) Radioplayer is not intended to be a big online portal for radio. It is primarily an agreement on basic 'user interface' standards for pop-up radio consoles. There will probably be some kind of central site to inform users and help people discover radio content in new ways - but it won't look like a big 'radio directory'. 2) Yes - it will be a stipulation of joining Radioplayer that all metadata is consistent and sharable on a completely fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory basis. This will have the effect of improving the raw data available to services like Reciva, Frontier Silicon, and Pure.

    To rangersman(QPR):
    Radioplayer won't be able to solve that one overnight - control over the audio and data sitting in the console remains entirely with the individual broadcasters. However, it's hoped that with everyone on a 'level playing field' stations will want to ensure they sound as good as possible.

    To halfamo and Simon Davenport:
    A couple of clarfications here. 1) As Simon says, Canvas hasn't been chopped. It's still being considered by the BBC Trust. 2) Radioplayer hasn't been through the BBC's approvals process yet. The proposal is still being defined, with important issues like potential market impact very much at the forefront of our thinking. 3) Kangaroo was blocked by the Competition Commission, partly because they were uncomfortable with elements like centralised advertising on the core site. There are no such common commercial elements planned for Radioplayer.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thanks for the positive feedback

  • Comment number 8.

    Thanks for the feedback,I though will not tune into the fabulous amount of BBC local radio shows in the current 80kMP3 audio quality with or without a radio player, so hopefully by the time it launches these shocking audio problems will be addressed. It bugs me how much bit rate goes into hd tv,yet the poor audio for radio is so still upon us.

  • Comment number 9.

    I note from the press coverage of 'UK Radio Player' it will cover news, sport, type of music and even song title - however no mention of drama which I fear will be pushed to the back - no sir lets keep 'Auntie BBC' and commercial radio quite separate, that way stations like Radio 4 and Radio 7 are given their own space to breath not be swallowed up in a 'one size fits all' set up . If the average listener is too lazy to find the required station's web site he/she doesn't deserve decent radio. Ipod Upod but lets keep a sense of proportion here.

  • Comment number 10.

    I welcome the standardisation across UK radio broadcasters that UK Radioplayer should encourage provided that translates into benefits for people who don't use a web browser to listen to radio on the internet. I wish the BBC would invest resources into improving the reliability, sound quality and on-demand index accuracy for general purpose media devices like internet radios and stop porting iPlayer everywhere. Please can we have direct access to the AAC streams that are currently wrapped up in flash for iPlayer and rock solid accuracy and completeness for the on-demand output?

  • Comment number 11.

    The BBC has an overblown sense of its own importance. It is not a software company and so should stop all these silly developments like iPlayer, Radioplayer and Canvas.

    The BBC must do what I pay my licence fee for, produce programs.

    Other people, commercial organisations, will take care of the distribution in an open content market. Otherwise the BBC is acting just like the decaying music and publishing industries and believes that controlling the means of distribution is vital to its success, it is not, creativity is what they are there for.

  • Comment number 12.

    This looks very interesting, I would like to know what the underlying system requirements are: will it work on linux netbooks? will it work on mobiles?

    11. Oh dear syganymede, you seem to have forgotten about the second B in BBC, it's broadcasting - delivering the content is a key part of the BBC role surely?

    8. I too have concerns over the quality - Radio 3 has never been the same since it's DAB bandwidth got chopped in the early days of DAB to squeeze in more stations, and even in Freeview, Radio3 got less bandwidth than the audio part of TV channels. But presumably the bandwidth for this will be up to the provider (with the usual fall backs where the player's connection can't reliablty deliver the bit rate)

  • Comment number 13.

    manInTheShack --- I certainly did not forget the second "B" in BBC.

    They are a broadcaster, but they are not a software company. Their duty stops at the point of delivery - an FM transmitter open to all, whatever radio receiver you use. But on the internet they are trying to go much further and control the program used for receiving the media. They should not do this, but simply make the audio stream and XML content guide available for anyone to create a receiving software.

  • Comment number 14.

    sganymede, I agree they should provide an 'open' service, i.e. free to air, and this would enable open 3rd party players, but I also think the BBC should be able to compete on level terms with the other major players like sky and virgin. No media company in the 21st century can live without some level of involvement in software. The BBC have taken a leading role in standards development throughout their history, and I think this is just a continuation of that.

    Having said that though I am very concerned about the (now rejected) proposal to Ofcom where the BBC was going to control who could access their broadcasts. This was definitely beyond the line, and would make a joke of the 'free to air' requirement.

    Also I think they must take account not just of the point of broadcast, but the ability of this to be delivered properly.

    You seem to be suggesting that (for example) they should not be providing a 'listen again', type of service, this would be nonsensical in the UK today; I could agree that the means to 'listen again' could be more open, but given that the iPlayer (which is a thin layer on top of 3rd party technology anyway) is cross platform, I think it is well positioned.

  • Comment number 15.

    "Not available in your area" :(
    Twould be nice in Paris


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