Changes to BBC radio streaming

By: A.C.

There are a number of blind & sight-impaired users of various devices who listen to BBC Radio on the Internet that are angry and upset with Aunty this week.

Windows Media Audio files are how Windows computers and devices that use that platform recognise sound and play it in your compute or device. If you have ever looked at the size of Windows Media Audio files in your computer, you will see that the WMA files are humongous in comparison to the newer compact Mpeg files.

The BBC found that supporting this increasingly outdated format, and supporting it to many types of devices, many of which are used by the blind, was becoming unsustainable. About 2- 5% of Internet radio listeners used this format.

Last year, the BBC contacted makers of devices used by sight-impaired people, and asked for their cooperation in upgrading or changing the format at the manufacture stage so that devices did not become obsolete. Manufacturers generally did not respond or offer solutions, except Logitech Squeezebox, who have responded and are assisting where they can.

Faced with an increasingly unsustainable and expensive format with which to stream programmes, it was decided to shut off these services.

“We have had to make choices about which standards we will support and which we will no longer support,” explained Jim Simmons, senior product manager, on the BBC Internet Blog.

More than 400 responses to his blog have been posted, mostly from disgruntled listeners.

The switch-off is part of a wider project, called Audio Factory, to streamline the many different systems that have been employed over the years to deliver streams.

This has involved standardising around ‘chunked’ http delivery – deemed the simplest and most common form of Internet delivery.

The head of media services, Henry Webster, explained in another BBC Internet Blog post:

“We wanted to make all of our delivery chains more resilient, improve audio quality across all stations and make access to those stations more consistent across the vast and diverse landscape of devices that we now need to support,” “It would appear that we have been having some teething trouble with our new MP3 ShoutCast streams, which has resulted in some buffering and inconsistent playback for some users. We have already put in place a number of measures to improve the situation here and will be monitoring closely for any further issues,”

In the longer-term, the BBC and the radio industry are trying to come to some agreement over a single standard – Mpeg Dash – for streaming.


For more about new and emerging radio services, check out our other articles:

Digital radio or FM?

Insight Radio

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