Podcasting Primed, BBC Radio MP3 download success

BBC Radio has for the last month been making some of its radio show available for MP3 download. Is this news? Well yes, previously they’ve always streamed their content, so you had to by your computer to receive it. With downloads you’ve been able to take it with you.

It actually started with this years The Reith Lectures, which over the ten weeks it was available, had around 50,000 downloads. It has now grown considerably to the point where Melvyn Braggs show, In Our Time, had 70,000 downloads in November. The weekly BBC Radio 4 show was available to download for seven days after broadcast. Not only is it downloadable, but it’s also available as a Podcast. If you’re not sure what a Podcast is, you should read on. Digital Lifestyles was told by the BBC on Friday that in November, there were 100,000 hits on their Podcast (RSS) file for In Our Time.

As regular readers of Digital Lifestyles will know, we are big believers in what we see as the effective rebirth of radio – the delivery of audio pieces over the Internet for playback on people’s portable music players. Over the last few months this hard-to-encapsulate idea has happily gained the moniker, ‘Podcasting’, but don’t be fooled by the iPod reference, this is for all music players.

Strictly speaking Podcasting is slightly more than just the Internet delivery of the material, it’s also about automating the process. By using an application like the open source, iPodder, listeners simply select the Podcasters their interested hearing from and the content is automatically gathered for them. This apparent magic is achieved by combining a couple of already existing technologies, RSS and FTP. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) has until now mostly be used to gather news updates but hidden in its specification is the ability to point to enclosures, in this case MP3 audio files. FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is then used to download the sound files to computer. All of this happens without the listens involvement.

Simon Nelson, Controller of BBC Radio & Music Interactive is clearly excited about it: “We’ve been surprised and delighted by the demand for downloads of what is one of our most challenging programmes; it demonstrates the public’s appetite for new ways of listening. Of course we recognise that we can’t offer all programmes in this way but we look forward to working with rights holders to explore ways we could learn from developments like this to drive radio listening forward.”

These ideas have been bubbling around the blog world and it just starting to hit the main stream. The impact of this form of distribution will be significant. The barriers to anyone having their own radio station are removed. Of course, any form of enclosure can be catered for, including video. Beware broadcast TV, look out TiVo.

BBC Radio 4, In our Time
BBC Radio 4, In our Time – Podcast