Streaming radio has been around for a long time, and it’s a popular activity. The latest RAJAR “MIDAS” survey shows that 31.7% of the adult population in the UK has listened to the radio via the Internet. As the workplace has evolved, the picture of the workshop tranny has been replaced by PCs and discrete bud headphones.
As with any technology, there’s now a wide range of ways to stream radio. There’s different formats (MP3, Windows Media, Real, HE AAC), different transports (HTTP, RTSP, MMS), and no agreed way to list a radio station, or describe its streams.
That wasn’t necessarily a problem when people listened on PCs, and went via the radio station’s own website to access the stream. Missing codecs were downloaded, players could be installed, and with a bit of persistence, you could get most things to play. (Although the BBC really got it in the ear for being such an early and long-standing devotee of RealPlayer).
But all the evidence is that people like listening to radio on, well, a radio. DAB is in half as many homes as have broadband internet, but gets five times more listening. The PC is conspicously not forming the centre of our entertainment universe, for various reasons.
Streaming devices have existed for a while. Do you remember the Philips Streamium? There’s certainly interest to buy connected devices, and that interest is growing as prices fall.
The problem is that putting new codecs and transport support on a hardware device in the field (possibly literally) is not trivial. Hardware devices are not like PCs (thank heavens), and need to work within more clearly defined parameters.
Which is why standardisation would be a good thing.
The IMDA (Internet Media Device Alliance) is a collaboration of manufacturers and broadcasters who are going to make using a streaming media device as simple and consistent as possible. Something a consumer can pick up and use within minutes.
It’s going to involve some compromises, and some tough discussion. It simply isn’t possible to support everything in a sub £100 streaming device. Some limits will have to be set that exclude some existing devices and broadcasters. Not everyone will get exactly the functionality that they need.
But the prospects for broadcasters are very good. We’ll have a clear idea of what formats, transports and bit-rates we should be using. It will mean a way of consistently advertising our stream-locations, programme schedules, live and on-demand content. We’ll be able to provide visual information and simple interactivity to a standard, rather than having to tailor everything on a device-by-device basis (as is the nightmare in the mobile space, due to the somewhat patchy adherence to behaviours by certain manufacturers).
You can find out a bit more about IMDA at the website. If you’re a broadcaster or a manufacturer, do get involved, because this is another great opportunity to Agree on Technology, Compete on Content.