Further information
changes outlined at BBC iPlayer Radio

Sunday, 22nd February 2015
BBC updates to streaming methods leaves internet radio listeners in the lurch

Recent changes to the way the BBC streams its stations over the internet has left many listeners unable to access on-demand or "catch-up" programmes and those with expensive hi-fi equipment unable to stream the BBC's stations in high quality.

The BBC had previously announced it would stop streaming its stations in Windows Media (WMA) format and traditional AAC, in favour of a more reliable method, with the stream broken down into "chunks" using AAC codecs, to allow automatic switching between high quality and lower quality streams, should internet speeds drop or improve while listening to a programme.

The changes don't affect DAB digital radio and listeners to the BBC's DAB coverage and transmitter roll-out continues as normal.

BBC Radio 4's In Touch has been discussing the implications for listeners with visual impairments.

The changes don't affect DAB digital radio and listeners to the BBC's DAB coverage and transmitter roll-out continues as normal.

While this new method of streaming by the BBC suits tablets, smartphones and desktop computers, problems have arisen in many internet radios whose chipsets can't be upgraded or modified to accept the BBC's chosen new streaming standards, meaning reduced access to the best quality streams. The new AAC streams are wrapped up in code that many internet radios cannot interpret. The BBC is currently providing MP3 streams as a stop-gap while radio manufacturers figure out if they can find a way to update the firmware in their their receivers to allow them to access the BBC's live and listen again services as before, however a number of manufacturers have already stated that these changes have rendered some older models obselete when it comes to supporting the BBC's listen again standards.

Meanwhile the use of MP3, as a fall-back for internet radios that can't stream in the new format, has thrown up some problems with sports programmes, in particular for BBC Radio 5 Live and Sports Extra, as the BBC does not have the rights to stream many sports events outside the UK. Instead, listeners are streamed a looping message on the MP3 stream explaining the situation, without being able to hear commentary. Annoyed BBC licence-payers have been posting in several BBC blogs about not being able to access Cricket World Cup coverage at home in the UK on their internet radios that now only have access to this "international" one-size-fits-all MP3 stream.

The BBC has insisted it is working with manufacturers such as Sonos and Naim to see if updates can be made to expensive equipment to natively support the http chunked feeds.

Pure's One Flow, Evoke F4 and Pure Sensia 200D Connect all contain later chipsets that can handle the higher-quality chunked feeds and continue to stream BBC on-demand "listen again" content as a result of the changes under the "BBC Audio Factory" project. Meanwhile, Pure confirmed on 16th December last year that many of its older products would no longer be able to stream listen again programmes provided by the BBC. The receivers affected are Pure's Avanti Flow, Sensia, Siesta Flow, Evoke Flow, Oasis Flow and the Sirocco 550 micro system.

There are reports that Cocktail Audio's X10 can also handle the BBC's new streams.

Pure One Flow photo
The Pure One Flow is one of a handful of products including the Evoke F4, Sensia 200D Connect and Cocktail Audio X10 that can handle the native http streams provided by the BBC.

The popularity of the BBC's on-demand programmes, combined with limited options for listening to radio services where DAB and FM reception in poor, and the fact that blind and partially-sighted UK listeners rely on their internet radios seems to have caught the BBC off-guard, with the BBC answering passionate pleas from listeners of BBC Radio 3 asking for a high-quality stream to be reinstated so that they can listen through hi-fi equipment and fielding angry comments from disenfranchised listeners.

The new streaming methods seem to provide the BBC better control over who gets access to its streaming links, reinforcing the BBC's own iPlayer Radio apps and portal as the primary way of listening to its stations and programmes over the internet. However, owners of expensive equipment - in many cases an investment running to hundreds of pounds - appear to be poorly served by the changes.

DAB digital radio logo

Related links:
England, NI, Scotland & Wales national radio services, on this website.

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