StreamOn Believes in HTTP Live Streaming
Streaming services provider StreamOn
emphasizes the benefits of HTTP Live Streaming. That caught our eye at Radio
World so we asked for more information about HLS.
This Q&A is with Andrew Snook, the company’s
chief technology officer.
RW: What is StreamOn and what is its
Snook: StreamOn provides radio broadcasters
with a full end-to-end streaming audio solution. The company began in 2002 as a
subsidiary of the OK Radio Group, where we used to own and operate 10 radio
stations in Canada. We wanted a streaming solution that focused on achieving
broadcast-level reliability, professional sound quality and ease-of-use for all
listeners. We couldn’t find anything that met our needs so we built our own
platform. In 2006 we sold the stations and began focusing exclusively on building
Internet tools to help stations grow audience and generate meaningful revenue.
What is HTTP Live Streaming and what are the main benefits to a radio
HLS is a wonderful new protocol that greatly enhances streaming reliability for
streams require a constant connection between audio players and streaming
servers. If that connection is ever interrupted the player has to reconnect and
rebuffer, which causes dropouts in audio. This becomes quite problematic for
in-car listening as movement between cell phone towers makes it difficult to
keep these connections constant.
HLS solves this
problem by chopping up audio into 5-second segments that are pushed out to
listeners throughout the listening session. This means that listening devices
only need Internet access for short spurts of time. Furthermore, HLS technology
makes live audio cacheable by cell phone networks, office buildings and
Internet service providers. This technology cuts down on bandwidth usage as
streams only need to be delivered once to groups of listeners connected on the
RW: How is HLS
implemented in your offerings?
Snook: At StreamOn one
of our most important priorities is making sure that online listeners can tune
in with just a simple click, just like radio. Traditional streaming players
rely exclusively on Adobe Flash as a play-out engine. That works well in most
cases but what do you do for office listeners where Flash has been disabled?
What about iPhone users who can’t even get Flash? Some of these people may be
first-time listeners who don’t have the patience to go through the app store to
download and install an app. It would be tragic to lose out on a ratings point because
someone with a PPM meter couldn’t tune in for technical reasons.
sensitivity towards listener ease-of-use prompted us to implement HLS not just
in Flash but also in Java and HTML5. When a listener opens a StreamOn player,
the player automatically detects your device capabilities and chooses the best
option for playing the audio without requiring the user to do anything other
than hit play.
RW: What other
technical barriers do radio stations face to creating smooth, continuous
streams to various listening devices?
biggest challenge with Internet radio is the Internet part of it. It’s amazing
how a just a little bit of packet loss or jitter can disrupt a stream while
having next to no effect on Web browsing and email. HLS makes a big difference
with these conditions, as the individual segments closely resemble regular Web
content. What HLS doesn’t fix is routing issues. We’ve seen situations where
computers in L.A. can’t connect to streaming servers in Chicago due to the
slowdown of a router in Seattle. These hops outside of your control can be very
frustrating. This is where it’s helpful to work with a global content delivery
network like Limelight Networks. We partnered with them to make sure that the
stations we work with can always get their content out with, with just one or
two routing hops required.
RW: You work
with radio stations that are trying to implement or upgrade their streaming
offerings. Can you offer any technical tip or advice based on what other
stations have done, any common errors to avoid?
Snook: The biggest
mistake that stations make is not taking listener complaints seriously. You may
only be getting a few complaints a week, but keep in mind that these are the
listeners who even bothered to write in. How many potential listeners just gave
up and didn’t bother?
listener feedback very seriously. If a listener isn’t able to tune in at work,
try and chase the problem down. Is there a proxy server that is acting
negatively with your stream? Is a firewall blocking Flash? Is your encoder
staying connected to your streaming server?
What else do we need to know?
Snook: At StreamOn
we’ve used HLS to create a unique player that gives listeners the ability to share
audio they like on social media. Audio clips can be shared in real-time with
advertising automatically attached. We think this a very tangible way for
stations to generate revenue on social media just by using existing audio
content. Email us at email@example.com
and we’d be happy to share some monetization strategies.