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Can't get the BBC on your internet radio? Here's why

Barry Collins
17 Feb 2015
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BBC listeners up in arms as new streaming formats cut off some internet radio devices

Some internet radio owners may no longer be able to receive the BBC channels after the corporation made changes to the streaming formats it uses. The BBC is dropping support for the Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, which is used by up to 5% of its listeners, leaving some older equipment unable to receive any BBC output.

The changes made to the streaming formats have also affected owners of Logitech Squeezebox devices and equipment for the blind and partially sighted. 

Writing on the BBC blogs, the coporation's head of media services says the BBC was left with little choice but to drop WMA. "Windows Media Audio (or WMA) has been a mainstay of the BBC's streaming portfolio for many years, but is now unsustainable," writes Henry Webster. "The radio industry, certainly in the UK, has already largely abandoned it and soon the few Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) on whom we rely to deliver the content are bowing out from supporting it also."

"This left us with a quandary – how do we effectively support the small community of internet connected radio users many of whom rely on the WMA format. We knew that use of Windows Media accounted for a small percentage of our overall internet listening (between 2-5%) but knew very little about the devices that were using them."

Webster said the BBC attempted to contact as many device manufacturers as possible to inform them of the changes, but some either could not or would not upgrade the firmware on their devices to support the new streaming formats. "It is particularly unfortunate that some devices targeted specifically at blind users have been affected by these changes," Webster writes.

"We did approach a number of the device manufacturers and software providers in this sector to advise them of the changes, but are conscious that this information did not reach all the necessary groups. We are now trying to contact these groups afresh to offer what assistance we can to get some of these devices back up and running."

Webster claims there have also been teething problems with the new MP3 streams the BBC has implemented, whilst many listeners are complaining of appalling sound quality. "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," he writes.

The good news is that Logitech and the Squeezebox community have apparently resolved many of the issues affecting those devices, according to Webster, although there are still plenty of people who are furious with the BBC. "The combination of paying a licence fee and to have expensive hardware rendered obsolete is very unsatisfactory," writes just one of a mob of angry users commenting on Webster's blog. 

"I purchased a Avox Indio Colour (i.e. Grace Mondo) this Christmas unaware of the changes. Although Reciva have updated their streams to use MP3 [so] I am losing live sport on Radio 5 - which I need as DAB reception is poor. Luckily I have seen this thread before investing in a Sonos which, as it uses Tunein, would also be stuck with the inferior MP3 streams."

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