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An update on streaming

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Fortunately, there are several third parties out there tohandle the job. Big players today sell turn-key solutions allowing you to stream, overlay and pay royalties pretty painlessly. On top of that, they also give you the ability to schedule and invoice the overlay spots, and offer options like streaming to Iphones. It makes little sense these days to roll your own system, because these streaming providers have the ability to scale and react to industry changes quickly and inexpensively.

The first step is to do some research on these providers. Listen to the streams of other radio stations. Is the sound quality good? Do the overlays sound natural? Do the players require any special software to work? These are important questions, because listeners have millions of choices for radio on the Web. Nothing will kill your streaming audience faster than bad audio, or a player that crashes their computer or requires special software.

Once you have a few providers in mind, call and ask about their technology. It is important to make sure their encoding software is able to communicate with your digital playback system. The way the overlay systems work is to listen for cues from an automation system's cart metadata stream via serial port or network connection. This metadata includes title, artist and category information. The overlay system filters this data, and when it sees a commercial is playing it shuts off the live feed and drops in the stored content that is scheduled to play.

Not only is the metadata used for overlays, the song title and artist data are used for now-playing information and also to generate the necessary paperwork for royalty payments.

After you've determined the provider's software will work with your digital playback system, you need to look at how you're going to get your audio to the provider's distribution point. Fortunately, you only have one or two streams to deal with, but they're important ones. Your Internet connection is an important investment, because it is the single point of failure in the system. Not only do you need enough bandwidth to feed a decent quality signal (anywhere from 32kb/s to 128kb/s) but it must be fairly free of other traffic so it's protected from slowdowns caused by congestion. You either need a dedicated connection, such as a business-class DSL or cable circuit, or a high bandwidth connection if it's shared with other users.

Another consideration is the type of encoding you'll use. As we all know, the more bandwidth your stream uses, the better the quality. In a perfect world, everyone would have a bunch of bandwidth, and we could send out one excellent quality high bit-rate stream. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

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