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Streaming radio online - your comments

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James Cridland James Cridland | 12:43 UK time, Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Over on the BBC Internet blog a few weeks ago, I posted a piece about planned changes to our streaming, for both live and on-demand radio. It's a piece that has got quite a lot of comment, so (in order that I don't take over the Internet blog and also to highlight its content here) I thought it worth replying to the comments in turn. Which I'll do, as they say in all the best blogs, after the jump.

(I've always wanted to say that).

Firstly, there were a number of questions about the formats we plan to use (which we're not making public quite yet, since I don't want to announce something we discover we can't do).

Andrew Livingstone asked about the new formats and players we're using. For on-demand radio, national networks will add a new format from April (with other stations following later); for live, new formats start in July-ish. Important to note that we don't plan to remove, for now, any currently available format. If something works now, it'll continue to work.

Peter Mains and BeHE specifically ask for Ogg Vorbis streaming, and BeHE adds "C'mon, if Virgin Radio can do it, so can you!". Whoever was responsible for introducing Ogg Vorbis streaming at Virgin Radio was clearly a clever, erudite, handsome man, and I'd encourage you to buy him a beer if you ever meet him. However, there's rather more expense in adding more formats at the BBC (we've over 60 different live radio stations), and it's your money we're spending. As a Linux user myself (Ubuntu mostly, Xandros on this little Asus Eee I'm writing on right now), my aim is simply to produce streams that 'just work' on every OS.

Mark Greener points out correctly that I erroneously claimed that all our stations are in Windows Media format; and Andy Davies writes: "How are N&R going to be integrated in the new set of technologies?" The BBC's split into a number of different divisions, and by "our" I meant the national networks. Mark's right to say that what we call 'nations and regions' are not currently available in Windows Media format; but I do know my colleagues there are doing a similar exercise in revamping their streaming.

Ashley Brown asks "Will BBC Radio be getting multicast and MP3 streams?" - not only will we be getting multicast streams, we've actually had them for a number of years, and we'd be really interested in your thoughts around them. He adds: "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." (How many formats do you need to hear Snow Patrol in?!) (grin) But I agree. Good idea.

Non-website access is also a concern. Mansel points out that it would be good to make live BBC radio via iTunes (I agree), and says "I fear you might be planning access through bbc website only", while Colin Soames is concerned that we might break listen-again so that it doesn't work with the Slimdevices Squeezebox. "Please, please do not 'break' this so it can only accessed using a web-browser." Don't be concerned; wifi radios and other connected devices will continue to be able to access listen-again and live radio; and it's our aim to get BBC Radio into as many software players as we can within the UK.

The iPlayer user experience also got some questions and comments.

Frankie and Dave asked "How about moving away from a pop-up window to normal, full-screen windows that are more easily searchable, bookmarkable and bloggable?" - agree. Let's do that. But JonathanEx writes: "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 the ability to open that player out in to a new window would be great." - I can't speak for our colleagues in television, but I will ensure your wish is granted too.

JonathanEx also wrote: "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" - indeed, BBC programmes already lists listen-again opportunities for radio as well; just watch for the pink magenta iPlayer buttons.

Antony Watts asks us to "simply publish the URLs for each player (Real, Widows, Quicktime, Flash, etc)". I agree that this is something we ought to look into; it'll not be part of iPlayer (where we want to keep the experience simple) but that's a great suggestion. Consider that added to the big suggestion bucket.

Finally, Alan asked "will you enable the Download feature, so that radio shows can sit alongside TV ones for offline listening"? The good news is that, of course, the BBC has made many radio programmes available for download for a good few years now, thanks to our excellent podcasting service. Making full music radio downloads is more difficult, as one of my colleague explains.

Good. Hope all this helps a bit.


  1. At 02:50 PM on 12 Mar 2008, Alan in Belfast wrote:

    Thanks for the update.

    Re: Downloading radio ...

    Better start asking the Trust to extend the iPlayer DRM remit to include radio programmes then! (And anything else that was left off the original iPlayer PVT.)

    I don't remember radio being specifically excluded ... more like just not included in the original wish list? Could be wrong ... but at the speed these kind of reviews/consultations happen, best to start asking early.

  2. At 07:01 PM on 12 Mar 2008, Ewan wrote:

    Seriously; why /not/ go for OGG Vorbis? if you're aiming "to produce streams that 'just work' on every OS", then an openly specified, patent unencumbered format is surely the way to go. The BBC has enormous clout in this area; pick OGG Vorbis, and every OS producer and device builder can, and will, make sure their products work with it.

  3. At 12:06 AM on 13 Mar 2008, Steve Bowbrick wrote:

    This is really fascinating stuff James. Thanks for sharing the process. Question: do you plan to adopt the idea of an 'embed' from the video people. I wonder why it's not present in radio. Why can't I pick up a slug of code (or drag a page element) and drop it into my site as I can with iPlayer for TV. This could be a really powerful enabler for sites like ours: https://speechification.com and could make completely new services possible - in the way that the streaming iPlayer's embed function (which I don't think is actually explicit yet) made https://watchification.com possible.

  4. At 02:44 AM on 13 Mar 2008, Greg K Nicholson wrote:

    /me echoes Ewan word-for-word.

  5. At 10:08 AM on 13 Mar 2008, Rick Lawson wrote:

    This is really good stuff.

    As TC just wrote, it seems the BBC have become all active all of a sudden. I do realise that you have all been putting in the groundwork for a long while to get to this stage but it's great to hear that now so many things seem possible.

    I'm already using my iPod Touch to watch TV and hopefully I'll be able to listen to radio soon, too!

    Whatever is going into the BBC tea these days, keep it up!

  6. At 10:09 AM on 13 Mar 2008, TC wrote:

    I really hope we get mp3 or aac streams, I could play that on just about everything from my work windows mobile device, my iphone, iTunes, and now with the new AppleTV update, I could stream radio to my AppleTV and airport express box via airtunes.

    An added bonus would be an increase in bitrate.

    The BBC seem to be on a roll at the moment, Im v excited aboiut all the changes. Soon I may be watching past TV shows, and listening to my favorite radio shows all on my iPhone! Cant wait!!

  7. At 05:29 PM on 14 Mar 2008, devolute wrote:

    This is all brilliant news, so thanks guys.

    An mp3 stream, of course, would be the ideal solution - even more so than ogg vorbis. Ogg support is rather lacking, particularly in mobile devices.

  8. At 07:31 PM on 14 Mar 2008, Ewan wrote:

    Ogg support is rather lacking, particularly in mobile devices.

    How long do you think that would last once the BBC started making material available in that format?

  9. At 11:11 AM on 17 Mar 2008, Sean wrote:

    Do all the latest features need the latest Flash etc? I like to listen to podcasts on a Windows Mobile 5.0 device and the latest Flash is v7 for pocket pcs. Can streaming radio and podcast selection not be made better for simpe devices with sub-VGA screens?

  10. At 01:43 PM on 23 Mar 2008, David wrote:

    I'm glad to hear that you are improving the quality of 'Listen Again'. I use this service to enable me to listen to my favourite programs in the car and have been frustrated by the loss of quality.

  11. At 12:51 AM on 25 Mar 2008, David Board wrote:

    I understand cost is an issue (especially recently), but I think the BBC should provide as much choice as possible for users when it comes to how they digest their content.

    Rather than force users down a parcticular technical route, the BBC should try and provide as wide an array of possible solutions as possible. Only the most popular of these solutions would be readily presented to the average consumer, but 'power users' who want higher quality/more features are normally willing to get the extra mile to find thoose elusive URLs which link to the super-duper audio streams that the 'norms' are apathetic to.

    That got a bit 'tom cruise' there, sorry.

  12. At 01:18 PM on 10 Apr 2008, Howard-Canada wrote:

    I am not up on this technology ... BUT... as a retiree I worry that there may be too much
    Competition and not enough co-operation.

    Canada's CBC has had OGG for a while now, I have played with it ... but... stayed with MP3 as I did not plan to broacast from our home.

    At the same time, I hope that the Journals and "formal/informal" ties between organizations-help you to share application knowledge and solutions.

    I love my Ipod Touch, and I an glad that the world "has it". ... but... if BBC and every other National Lab has to "make it work" for me that's a worry...or dare I say " bit of a waste" .

    Thanks for your open thoughts and plans.
    Now that IS SHARING.

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