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A sample from
Web Radio. Radio Production for Internet Streaming

This is the second half of the the book's final summary chapter, which references the earlier chapters in which the detail is contained ...

The copyright for this extract is owned by Focal Press. All rights are reserved.

Chapter 12 So how is web radio different? A checklist.

Part II

(Click here for Part I.)

Ways of being a web station

For an established terrestrial station, as noted under the previous heading, a simulcast web presence is the obvious first step, though not necessarily the most fruitful. Side channels can extend the station's appeal and target specific sections of the total broadcast audience, perhaps on a rotational basis. (Chapter 5 & 10)

A web only station can be either or a combination of live and on demand streams - according to their aims, their means and their ability to generate content. For music stations the distinction between three types of streams is technical rather than aesthetic. The listener may not spot whether they have clicked onto a stream that:

Unless a station has copyright clearance though it's often safer to avoid offering the first of these options for music. (Chapter 8) On balance, unless an online only station is in the rare position of having a live studio output for speech programmes, on demand is particularly effective for pre-recorded programmes or sections of programmes ('as live' or 'built'). This ability to time shift and indeed make more than a full day's schedule available to choose from is just not feasible on a broadcast frequency - which is why many speech based broadcasters around the world have taken to on demand archiving. (Chapters 6 & 11)

Scaleable output. Whereas broadcasters have to justify their license with a full schedule of programming 365 days a year, the start up station on the Web can choose to create only a short schedule of live and/or archive streams to test the water. The danger for archive streams in this situation is if they appear lifeless or, worse still, dated. Analogue radio tells us that a sense of 'liveness' or spontaneity or unexpectedness is crucial for drawing the listener into a piece of radio. The makers of speech orientated programmes can compensate by applying the broadcaster's skills of programme making. For any short form station it is crucial to set the streams on offer in the right dynamic website environment - so that the website clearly has a living presence behind it. (Chapters 6, 7 & 11)

Using a host service. For stations or private individuals without the time, inclination, technical ability or access to adequate bandwidth there are a range of extremely expert host services. As a first step this can be anything from the cheap and cheerful portal site to a completely customised site / station management deal. The latter are especially useful as a means of coping with rapidly increasing audiences or special events, where guaranteed bandwidth is more than usually essential. These options are very far away from the way broadcasting has traditionally worked. (Chapters 4 & 7)

Managing your own station's streaming server. For complete independence as a webcaster. It requires time and a certain amount of technical ability to do well, but in the long run can keep running costs right down. This kind of solo independence is rare in the world of broadcasting. Ham radio and CB, where they are allowed, have been set about with restrictions, which have meant they remained more like remote telephony than radio. Small scale Third Sector radio has been closer to it - although maintaining (or evading) a licence is a constant struggle in most parts of the world. (Chapter 4)

Variety of website strategies. The station website has opened a new route for dialogue between any radio station and its listeners. This is changing the way many broadcasters work, but web radio stations have more opportunity to respond directly to individual members of a smaller audience. (Chapters 5, 6 & 7)

Regulation and control

Copyright. The painful process of adapting copyright regulation to cope with the Internet is a serious problem for many web radio stations, especially those who are simulcasting a broadcast output and especially those based in America. The copyright issue is mainly a threat to the future profitability of web radio more than to its creative potential, because it is about the playing of mainstream popular music to build audience. Web radio, as defined in this book, is not the same as music file sharing, but for now it has found itself considered guilty by association. This is part of very complex set of issues that will certainly redefine the present relationship between the major record companies, their artists, the whole of the radio industry and the music fan. Although radio broadcasters currently have the advantage of holding clear cut music licences, on the other hand web stations stand to be beneficiaries of the confusion if they can forge positive working relationships with the minor record labels, and directly with artists. This small scale approach again fits with the niche audience role. (Chapter 8)

Licensing is only an issue between web radio stations and copyright holders. At the moment there is no prospect of any equivalent of broadcast licences applying to web radio. However - as with any other medium - if a station is effective in opposing an authoritarian government attempts will very likely be made to locate its source and to find a pretext for taking it offline. (Chapter 9)

Content regulation. While it is a mistake to image the Internet as a medium immune from the laws of the land in the long term, web radio stations are unlikely to find their output being subjected to regulations that apply to broadcast content. (Text and images will be the focus of attempts to regulate Internet content for the foreseeable future.) On web radio there are no obligations to exercise political impartiality, good taste, decency or restraint in opinions expressed - the kinds of restrictions that are applied to many broadcasters under liberal democracies. Similarly web radio can also side-step the need to adhere to a particular party line under more authoritarian regimes if they can manage to locate their streaming server safely were restrictions do not apply. (Chapter 9)

Free speech and responsibility. On the flip side of freedom of speech lie the ethical and moral consequences of what a station airs. Here reputation is the governing factor in place of external control. Again this is an important new area for many experienced radio makers, who are more used to knowing what limits they are bound by. The content they put out on a web station is more fully a matter of individual conscience and demands a framework of media ethics for which the maker takes responsibility. (Chapter 9)

The consequences of free speech. The downside of working outside laws and regulations is that a station's site is also much more exposed to the actions of any opponents it may gather than broadcasters are used to. It usually takes a government (or a coup) to close a broadcaster down. On the Internet a determined individual with a reasonable knowledge of computers can close a website down, if only temporarily. The chances of detection or redress are minute. (Chapter 9)

Content

Putting the elements of the above summary together suggests the following as answer to the twin questions I began with. The strengths that web radio has to offer over traditional radio are decidedly complementary to it rather than supplanting it: they add to radio's horizontal capability and do not challenge its broadcast position. Therefore web radio content needs to cater to narrower sections of audience and minority tastes: it needs to offer the kind of programmes that are not available in any given area on broadcast radio. It can do this anywhere on a scale from a geographically extremely local basis out to a global, but dispersed basis. Because its infrastructure makes web radio unable, so far, to compete with traditional broadcasters, it needs to explore and exploit these unique new niche characteristics, which means dividing content between live or archived streams rather than trying to create a traditional broad mix across a 24 hour live schedule.

This conclusion is slightly complicated by the fact that web radio is part of the overall digitalisation of the radio industry. We need to make a distinction between content characteristics that are due to that digitalisation and which due to the niche and on demand properties of Internet distribution. The automated playout of genre-specific music channels is not confined to web radio: it is also present in the 100 channels now being offered on, for example, the XM direct digital satellite; to a lesser extent it is part of the multiplex infrastructure of DAB; and automated random rotations are increasingly being used as a way of cutting costs on analogue music radio stations around the world. The extent to which listeners will respond to that choice and hence support advertising revenues has yet to be proven. It's early days. But if this approach does work it will clearly become the dominant form for delivering mainstream - i.e. broadcast - music radio. It won't be so particular to web radio as it is at the moment.

So what can make web radio content different? Mainly that it's potentially orientated towards people as individuals rather than as mass audiences - both as listeners and, crucially, as programme makers.

Broadcasters with a simulcast stream

. The real questions here are a) whether being on the Internet adds anything to the broadcast content and b) whether the combined presence of the website and stream really is in tune with the horizontal character of the medium.

Web only stations

. For these stations to survive this pioneering phase, it is more important for them to understand the creative spirit of the Internet than the business models for broadcasting. They may simply be motivated by the fun of getting something they've made out there in the public domain, or by a desire to make the programmes they don't hear on the broadcast stations they can pick up; they probably will need a combination of the two. But as a survival strategy, whether for music or speech they need:

Above all can we come up with the content, the new style of programme, the public service, the distinctive entertaining mix, the community building station that we always felt was missing from our own local patch of the airwaves? Because if we, as listeners, can't think of what that station would sound like the whole of radio's future in the digital will surely be the poorer. There is a fantastic opportunity here, but there's also nothing automatic to say that web radio, the technology, will provide us with content that takes advantage of its unique potential. Just as in the 1920s the new radio technology is only going to become what creative people make it.

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Chris Priestman, December 2001
Email: c.j.priestman@web-radio-book.com
© 
Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2002.
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