Wednesday, February 18, 2015

BBC Unplugs Millions

The BBC in early February abruptly dropped all of its Windows Media and AAC/AAC+ encoded internet radio streams in favor a limited number of streams only compatible with devices that can handle new codecs (HDS/HLS) from Adobe and Apple. Short term lower quality MP3 feeds have been substituted for some of the lost streams. 

The plans to drop WMA were announced in an obscure blog six months ago but the AAC decision was not. No over-the-air announcements were made in advance. The result was that many users were suddenly unable to stream the BBC and did not know why. Support for “on-demand” feeds is expected to end later in the month. Limited support for podcasts, probably in MP3, will go forward for an interim period before all MP3 support will also end. 

BBC managers posting to one of their blogs have said this is a cost-saving measure and an attempt to adopt state of the art technology. Users haven’t been mollified and hundreds of critical comments have been posted on the BBC web site. Some users have filed complaints with British regulators over the unexpected changes. 

The changes have cut off users of most standalone internet radio devices (including very recent high end stereo receivers and Sonos devices) in favor of codecs that work on some but not all smartphones and most PCs with current version browsers and operating systems. Aggregation services such as TuneIn, vTuner, and Reciva have been scrambling to substitute the low quality and apparently unreliable MP3 feeds the BBC is offering instead. Most devices for the visually impaired have been rendered useless by the change as well. 

Hardware manufacturers are also scrambling but many are unable or find it prohibitively expensive to make changes to their hardware already sold or in the pipeline. Most users won’t know how to apply the firmware fixes even where available. For retailers, if the product can’t stream the world’s largest public broadcaster, it has to be a big negative on sales in many parts of the world.

(Tnx CQ Contributing Editor Rob de Santos, K8RKD)