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Streaming Radio Online

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James Cridland James Cridland | 10:09 UK time, Tuesday, 26 February 2008

There's a lot to bear in mind when you broadcast online, as BBC Radio has been doing since 1996.

The thinking behind our streaming has been informed by four factors:

  • reach
  • quality
  • cost
  • and reliability.

iplayer_radio_today.pngWe need to make our programmes and stations reach as many people as we can within the UK, to ensure that everyone - Mac or Linux; Internet Explorer or Firefox - gets great value from the BBC. We need to ensure that the quality of the sound is what you'd expect from the BBC, but also to weigh that up against the cost of streaming at higher bitrates, and the reliability of consistent live streaming. Much of the listening to internet radio is done at work, where it's easier to smuggle in a pair of headphones for the desktop than it is to get a DAB Digital Radio past the receptionist, and where internet connections are frequently under heavy use.

Until now, the BBC has primarily used software from Real Networks as the way of broadcasting our content, both live and on-demand. We chose Real because it uses a multi-platform player and it works well at low bitrates and with choppy connections. While you'll now also find all our stations available in Windows Media Player should you choose, the default choice has been Real. And, apart from small subtle changes in bitrate, we've not changed the technology behind this for a while, as some people have pointed out!

But the world's changing.

When we started broadcasting on the internet, the only other way of receiving Radio 5, as it was then known, was on medium wave. Now, Radio 5 Live is available in many different ways: from DAB Digital Radio to Freeview, digital satellite and cable. It's never been easier to pick up a reliable digital broadcast, at higher audio quality than we can offer online. And, when Ashley Highfield gets excited about the possibilities of digital radio, we know we must be on to a winner.

Jill Balcon (Announcer, BBC Light Programme)When we launched the BBC Radio Player, now known as the iPlayer for Radio, in 2002, we added the chance to listen again to most of our programmes. This is something that, for now, is still mostly unique to the internet, and adds a wealth of additional listener choice: choice that, in January, meant a total of 24.9 million hours of radio listening online (live and on-demand). (We publish our site stats online, incidentally).

radio_online_stats_0708.png

So in April, we're starting to make radical changes to how we stream in the UK, differentiating live and on-demand. For live, we'll start to use a more intelligent way of working out what software you have, to make listening live an even more painless experience. And later in the year, you'll see increases in quality for our live streams too.

And a result of the continued success of "listen again", we're changing that, too. Since the only place you can get this is on the internet, we've prioritised these to ensure that you get much higher quality. In many cases, these streams will "just work", regardless of what computer you use. And in parallel to this, we're doing quite a bit of work to further improve the sound quality later in the year.

Finally, radio will look different as well, as we move into a full integration with the BBC iPlayer. At last, the BBC's radio and television content, in one place: all easily searchable; radio comedy next to television comedy, just as you'd expect it - The News Quiz next to Have I Got News for You, or the chance to discover that if Thursdays are funny on BBC TWO with That Mitchell & Webb Look, then BBC Radio 4 was funny first with That Mitchell & Webb Sound.

A sketch called Big Talk with Ramond Terrific and his Boffins. L-R: Olivia Coleman plays a Boffin, Robert Webb plays a Boffin, David Mitchell plays Ramond Terrific and James Bachman plays a Boffin. TX: BBC Radio 4, Thursday 10th February 2005. Use of this copyright image is subject to Terms of Use of BBC Digital Picture Service. In particular, this image may only be used during the publicity period for the purpose of publicising THAT MITCHELL AND WEBB SOUND and provided the BBC is credited. Any use of this image on the internet or for any other purpose whatsoever, including advertising or other commercial uses, requires the prior written approval of the BBC or other copyright owner.

We've a lot of systems that need changing, so this is no small job, and my team has been busy working on this project for a good few months already. But we hope that you'll like the changes that you'll start to see in April and beyond.

James Cridland is Head of Future Media & Technology for BBC Audio & Music Interactive.

Comments

  1. At 11:05 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Andrew Livingston wrote:

    Hi James,

    Could we get a bit more information on the new formats and players? Are we going to have a Flash player? Will we start offering live streaming/Listen Again in Quicktime for example so it'd work on an iPhone?

    But generally good news all round!

    Thanks!

  2. At 11:15 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Alan in Belfast wrote:

    As you integrate radio with the existing TV content on iPlayer, will you enable the Download feature, so that radio shows can sit alongside TV ones for offline listening?

  3. At 11:58 AM on 26 Feb 2008, BeHE wrote:

    The one thing I would really appreciate is if you provided Ogg Vorbis streaming again. It is near-impossible to integrate Real and Windows Media with most music players, which offer radio streaming, and would provide increased exposure for your stations. C'mon, if Virgin Radio can do it, so can you!

  4. At 12:51 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Frankie Roberto wrote:

    How about moving away from a pop-up window to normal, full-screen windows that are more easily searchable, bookmarkable and bloggable?

  5. At 01:37 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Mark Greener wrote:

    "All stations are now available in Windows Media format"... er, have you looked at the iPlayer Radio? None of the local stations seem to have it as far as I can tell.
    Nice to know that if we want to hear local travel news on the web we're stuck with Real ;)

  6. At 01:38 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Ashley Brown wrote:

    Will BBC Radio be getting multicast and MP3 streams? As you well know, Virgin Radio wipes the floor with most radio stations in terms of available formats, yet still presents a simple player for those who don't know what they want.

  7. At 02:54 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Andy Davies wrote:

    How are N&R going to be integrated in the new set of technologies? There are huge infrastructure issues involved in upgrading from Real only to multi format streaming. Improvements are always welcome to output but I'd be interested to see how it will be implemented.

  8. At 05:03 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Scot wrote:

    And a result of the continued success of "listen again", we're changing that, too.

    Whoever said "if ain't broke then don't fix it" obviously didn't work for the BBC. ;-)

  9. At 09:35 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Mansel wrote:

    You don't mention compatibility with iTunes. As iTunes is the most popular media player and can already be used to access bbc podcasts and TV shows it would seems a natural choice to add the radio streams. It could then be integrated within itunes mobile apps for iphone as per recent announcement of iplayer. You don't mention this so i fear you might be planning access through bbc website only.

  10. At 09:46 PM on 26 Feb 2008, JonathanEx wrote:

    Good to hear. iPlayer Radio seems awfully stuck in the past, and the iPlayer integration so far seems to be the extent of a very simplistic lick of paint.
    Increased quality and other streaming formats is welcome (I still believe Real Player actually is made by the devil, but that just shows the extraordinarily weird religious beliefs I have) - and hopefully there'll also be more integration with BBC Programmes: I love how TV shows on iPlayer are automatically shown on the Programmes page, hopefully that'll extend to Radio, but it seems a bit one way - you can't get from iPlayer to Programmes for a specific show, unless I'm doing it all wrong...

    However, what I really hope is that eventually (obviously talking in the long run) we'll see the realisation, probably through Flash, of the absolutely GLORIOUS demo of IPTV Radio at https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radiolabs/2008/01/visualising_radio.shtml
    I know its some ways off, but I hope that's the direction things are moving in.

    One minor feature I'd like to see for iPlayer, both Radio and TV, is to popout the current playing window. For example, if I'm watching or listening to something (under the assumption iPlayer Radio will be operating similarly to TV in the browser) the ability to open that player out in to a new window would be great.

  11. At 10:14 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Colin Soames wrote:

    >"listen again", we're changing that, too.

    Please, please do not 'break' this so it can only accessed using a web-browser. 'Listen Again' via the Slimdevices Squeezebox is how I listen to 90% of BBC radio.

  12. At 09:28 AM on 27 Feb 2008, Antony Watts wrote:

    I would ask the BBC to simply publish the URLs for all streaming and for each player (Real, Widows, Quicktime, Flash, etc)

    Then we can just load these in our favourite player and get on with listening or viewing (hopefully)

  13. At 11:08 AM on 27 Feb 2008, Peter Mains wrote:

    I sincerely hope that you are prepared to implement non-proprietary formats. Ogg vorbis is an excellent example of this. Using Real player has never been a straightforward option for many linux distributions.

  14. At 11:57 AM on 27 Feb 2008, dave wrote:

    Please don't lock this inside some gee-whiz interface. Make it a bunch of web page with decent URLs and links so it's searchable and accessible and works on every device and platform and all that other good web stuff. Please use Flash (if you even have to) simply to play the audio but make the files or streams directly accessible too so that it's optional!.

  15. At 01:51 AM on 29 Feb 2008, Ed wrote:

    I agree with everyone else's comments here. Let's have simple URLs and open file formats like ogg vorbis.

  16. At 01:01 PM on 03 Mar 2008, Scott wrote:

    I listen to BBC radio mostly through a Slimdevices Squeezebox so please (as a comment above also says) don't break compatibility with this device.

    I'm really pleased to hear that you're going to up the audio quality of your streams as, in my opinion, your current bitrate really isn't up to the job.

  17. At 08:00 PM on 07 Mar 2008, Michael wrote:

    I listen to a lot of BBC Radio on various devices using Real Player both when I’m in the UK and abroad.

    I don't think Real Player is great, in fact it is fairly shoddy. But it does work for BBC Radio and there are a lot of devices with embedded versions of Real Player (think of wi-fi radios like that from Acoustic Energy -- sold through the BBC online shop -- or the Nokia E51 phone that I use to listen to Today while in the shower).

    So while it would be great if you added support for devices like the iPhone, applications like iTunes and open formats like ogg or mp3 streaming, I really hope this doesn't mean "breaking" what's already there. Could you address this and also:

    - will the new streams be available outside the UK?
    - will you switch off the Real streams?
    - have you researched how many of your listeners are using embedded real player rather than a Mac/PC?

    Thanks.

  18. At 11:29 PM on 07 Mar 2008, Michael wrote:

    I listen to a lot of BBC Radio on various devices using Real Player both when I'm in the UK and abroad.

    I don't think Real Player is great, in fact it is fairly shoddy. But it does work for BBC radio and there are a lot of devices with embedded versions of Real Player (think of wi-fi radios like that from Acoustic Energy -- sold through the BBC online shop -- or the Nokia E51 phone that I use to listen to Today while in the shower).

    So while it would be great if you added support for devices like the iPhone, applications like iTunes and open formats like ogg or mp3 streaming, I really hope this doesn't mean "breaking" what's already there. Could you address this and also:

    - will the new and/or old streams be available outside the UK?

    - will you switch off the Real streams?

    - have you researched how many of your listeners are using embedded real player rather than a Mac/PC?

    Thanks.

  19. At 03:02 PM on 12 Mar 2008, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    James has now responded to some of your comments on this post on the BBC Radio Labs blog.

  20. At 01:42 PM on 13 Mar 2008, James@honestcreative.com wrote:

    Hi there

    iTunes integration would be very high on my list.

    TV-wise, has anyone noticed the fact that News24, BBC Weather and various news clips on the site seems to now be more choppy and stream only in mono? This never used to be the case. WIll this be sorted in April too.

  21. At 02:40 PM on 14 Apr 2008, Chris Gregory wrote:

    Can we have a list of BBC stations & links that will play in iTunes please

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