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UK radio pushes online listening

image captionUsers will be able to search across BBC and commercial radio stations

Many of the UK's biggest radio broadcasters have joined forces to launch a system for listening to their stations over the internet.

UK Radioplayer brings together commercial outlets alongside BBC stations in an attempt to boost online listening.

Only 3% of people access radio via the web and growth has been sluggish.

Although broadcasters will now use the same interface, they are free to customise it and include advertising.

Among the radio groups supporting the project are Global, GMG, Bauer Media and UTV Radio, as well as the BBC.

Tim Davie, director of audio and music at the BBC, welcomed the move, but conceded it was perhaps overdue.

"It is true that, to a certain extent, the radio industry has lacked the level of innovation of television," he said.

Mr Davie suggested that the launch of UK Radioplayer, along with a BBC trial of high bitrate HD radio, indicated a renewed determination to innovate.

No guarantee of quality

The UK Radioplayer is intended to offer some consistency to users, with all players having the same basic controls, search function and favourites option.

However the system does not guarantee that all radio stations will provide the same quality of audio stream.

Broadcasters remain free to chose lower or higher bitrates, said Michael Hill, managing director of Radioplayer Ltd.

He told BBC News: "We wanted to leave it to stations to chose their own bitrate. That is the way for small stations to keep their costs down."

At launch, the Radioplayer will only work on devices that are capable of running Adobe's Flash platform. That includes most personal computers and some mobile phones and tablets.

A version capable of running on Apple devices will follow shortly, said Mr Hill.

UK Radioplayer has been broadly welcomed, even by those who have previously voiced scepticism about industry's digital strategy.

William Rogers, chief executive of radio group UKRD, is a critic of the DAB system. He believes that internet broadcasting may be a better way to proceed.

"This will improve the online offering of radio and undoubtedly assist listening.

"I do not think it will be a panacea," he said. "But it is a step in the right direction."

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