Two month reprieve for BBC Windows Media Audio streams

The BBC has given Windows Media Audio stream users a two month reprieve, as the broadcaster seeks to make long term changes to the way it provides audio streams to internet listeners.

Back in September, the BBC's Jim Simmons confirmed the switch away from using Windows Media Audio, which was originally due to take place at the end of this year. An update from BBC Reception issued just before Christmas confirms an amendment to the switch-off timetable, with Windows Media Audio now no longer due to be supported from the end of February 2015.

The BBC says its switching to HTTP Live Streaming and Advanced Audio Coding, to " make our radio streams more efficient, reliable and cost-effective."

The move affects all BBC radio stations, including the World Service.

Internet radio users are being advised that "for live radio, each station will now be broadcast in the SHOUTcast mp3 format. This should work for most devices.

Unfortunately, we can’t use the same solution for on-demand programmes, so many internet radios will no longer be able to access on-demand programmes. We recommend you check your instruction booklet or contact the device manufacturer to check what formats your receiver supports."

Explaining the reasons for this potential on-demand "blackout" on internet radios, Jim Simmons said in September: "Providing a replacement for listen again (ie not live radio) is a much more difficult problem. Without windows media, the only other way that these devices can receive an audio file is to download it in an unprotected format. This would contravene the BBC’s agreements with rights holders (record companies, publishers, writers etc.) which require copyright material to be protected.

"Windows Media accounts for 2-5% of on demand online listening. Some of this 2-5% of online listeners will be able to switch to our new feeds, some will not.

"Continuing to serve Windows Media is too expensive at a time when the BBC is facing significant cuts in its funding. It requires special infrastructure to serve it and the industry is moving away from providing it as an option. We have explored the potential to set up an authentication process to provide downloads to these devices, in a way that would meet our rightsholder agreements, but this would also be complicated and expensive.

"We will continue to make listen again available for programmes where the BBC has download rights and the material is made available as a podcast. Podcasts will still be available on these devices as mp3."

The BBC assures listeners that it doesn't plan to change audio formats again "any time soon."

Unsurprisingly, given the constant pace of change in the world of digital media, it adds this disclaimer: "But we’ll continue to review things so we can offer the best formats for the best listening experience."



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