Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Phasing out 24-56kb MP3 streams

We're going to be phasing out our lower bitrate MP3 streams in 2010, and replace them with aacPlus feeds. 24-32k MP3 streams will become 32k aacPlus streams, which sound so much better than the existing 32k streams. 56k MP3 streams will become 64k aacPlus streams.

Eventually, we'll offer 32k and 64k aacPlus streams for all our channels, 128k MP3 streams for compatibility, and 32kb Windows Media streams.

iTunes 9 now has full support for aacPlus (AAC-HE) streams, and this was the main player that didn't support it. Since 1/3-1/2 of all our traffic is people listening in iTunes, this was something that held us back from making more of a switch to aacPlus before now.

We will also be adding Flash-based streaming this year, which will work well for many people in office settings where they can't install a media player.

The listener numbers for the low bitrate MP3s has drastically fallen over the last year, and I can't think of any reason to keep the low-bitrate MP3 streams running. If you think we should for some reason, leave a comment and let me know.

I'm hoping that we'll get more adoption of the 64kb aacPlus streams which frankly sound as good or better than the 128k MP3 streams.

Happy 2010!

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Snow Leapord support for aacPlus

I just noticed that the Snow Leopard Quicktime player now plays aacPlus over http via a .pls file right out of the box. If you get info while playing an aacPlus stream, it doesn't say anything special to indicate it's aacPlus: just AC, 2 channels, 22050hz. But it really is playing back as a 44.1 stream (remember that aacPlus synthesizes all audio over 10khz).

Strangely, though, RTSP streams in quicktime are NOT playing back in aacPlus! The are played back only as AAC (and hence sound like they're 22khz files rather than 44.1.)

To try it out, open up http://somafm.com/groovesalad48.pls from within Quicktime Player. You don't get Metadata but you do get the stream in full fidelity.

Now try the RTSP version:

rtsp://64.202.98.91:554/gs.sdp

Also, seems that the new Quicktime X doesn't support QTL files anymore. (This breaks all the quicktime links on the SomaFM site, we can change them to .mov files).

PS- Rumor is tomorrow's announcement of iTunes 9 will include aacPlus playback. That would indeed be exciting is that was the case!

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Monday, March 9, 2009

SXSW Road Trip

Merin and I decided to drive from San Francisco to Austin for SXSW. We're bogging about being on the road to SXSW and what we discover along the way.

We're also road testing internet radio (SomaFM on the iPhone especially) and finding that unfortunately there are too many places on the interstate in the southwest that it still doesn't work reliably.

In addition to the blog, we're posting some updates on SomaFM's twitter (be sure to follow @somafm!)

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Other deals on the horizon?

While the NAB has a deal in place, others, including small commercial webcasters, religions and non-commercials, Pandora and possibly Real Networks (Rhapsody) also failed to come to a deal in time by the deadline of Feb 15th. DiMA, part of the Save Net Radio coalition and the organization representing clients like AOL, Yahoo and other large webcasters, has not announced a deal either.

There was some talk that because the 15th was a Sunday and the 16th was a holiday, that the real deadline is the 17th so there might still be a deal made.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wasn't internet radio killed last year?

KG Writes in:
I thought internet radio was killed last year. What gives?

SomaFM and most other internet broadcasters have technically been operating "out of compliance" (that is, we're not paying the royalties we are supposed to be paying). At some point, we can't keep doing this... someone will sue us for copyright infringement. SoundExchange has informally agreed to not sue any broadcasters who continue negotiations with them, that's why stations are still on the air. Other large services like iMeem and Last.FM have made direct deals with the large record labels, in most cases resulting in the "Big 4" record labels owning a part of those companies. (And with that ownership comes influence over the music they feature.)

So making a deal with the big record labels is not acceptable for most broadcasters who strive to be independent in the music they broadcast.

We have continued to negotiate with SoundExchange (the agency that collects the royalties) over the last year, and are close to a settlement. Originally, one problem was that a SoundExchange settlement would only cover their members, and not apply to all music as the CRB ruling did, unless congress acted to codify any settlements. HR. 7084 which was recently signed into law, does exactly that: it tells the CRB that they have to codify any settlement internet broadcasters and SoundExchange agree to. This is the only way we can get the royalties reduced to a reasonable level.

Internet radio is running on borrowed time. But even without a deal, big, venture-capital funded services like Pandora will likely survive in a slightly altered form: they'll have to make deals with all the major labels which will cause them to lose some of their independence. But small stations like SomaFM will be put out of business: either by lawsuits from the RIAA if we continue to operate without paying the royalty fees or more likely by just not having enough money to continue our operations after paying all these royalties.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Will Comcast's streaming caps impact SomaFM listeners?

I've gotten a lot of questions lately about Comcast's streaming caps, and how they might affect listening to SomaFM?

Comcast's cap averages out to about 770 Kbps continuous average bandwidth usage, or about half the capacity of a T1 line. Or about 6 times the bandwidth required to listen to SomaFM. So you could listen to SomaFM 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and use only about 1/6th of the bandwidth you're allowed to use under the new Comcast rules.

For most users, Comcast's limits won't affect them. The main people who will be affected are those who download and share lots of files. Even people who use lots of streaming video likely won't be affected by these limits.

So as far as listening to SomaFM goes, the limits being imposed by Comcast shouldn't affect you.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

San Francisco Music Tech Conference Video

I moderated a panel at the San Francisco Music Tech conference on a bunch of different streaming technology issues.

The plan was for this to be a discussion panel about where streaming technologies are going, and what can be taken advantage of now, and what's coming down the pipe soon. We can also talk about what is really needed, vs what "solutions" that the market is pushing right now.

You can't really see me in this video, only my hands in the left side of the frame!

Left to right:

John Richey - Wireless Music Delivery Expert, Apple (he's half out of the frame, sorrt).

Greg Ogonowski - VP of New Product Development, Orban

Tim Pozar - CEO, Late Night Software and former VP of Engineering, UnitedLayer

Chris Grigg - Head of Standards, Beatnick

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

iPhone streams updated for 2.0/3G

Until today, our iPhone/iPod Touch streams were only working on the current iPhones with the 1.x software. Now thanks to some testing by Mark Malone at Apple, we've updated our iPhone streams to work with the 2.0 software and the 3G iPhones coming out on Friday. So now our streams work on both old and new iPhones and iPod touches. While I haven't had a chance to test the 3G data network with a new iPhone, you should be able to use the WiFi streams when you're on the ATT 3G network. I'll be interested to see how it works out!

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

SanFran MusicTech Summit

I'll be moderating a panel on new developments in streaming at the SanFran MusicTech Summit this Thursday, May 8th at the Hotel Kabuki. Our panel will start at 1:50pm in the Osaka Room (the downstairs room behind the Spring Room). With me will be:

John Richey - Wireless Music Delivery Expert, Apple
Greg Ogonowski - VP of New Product Development, Orban
Chris Grigg - Head of Standards, Beatnick
Tim Pozar - VP of Engineering, UnitedLayer

We're going to be talking about delivery methods. New codecs. Streaming to mobile devices. Internet radio hardware devices. How to determine if you really need a content delivery network. It should be real fun.

Here's a blurb about the summit:

The SanFran MusicTech Summit will bring together digital thought leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as from all around the country to the region which currently leads the way in innovating (both socially, and technologically) new ways of interacting with both music, and musicians. We will be working long term to help enable a sustainable, ongoing, Northern California based music and related technology market.

Register for the Summit here

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Notes from the Platform Equality hearing

Rep. Howard Berman, Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, held a hearing on "Platform Equality", which would end the decades long royalty exemption for terrestrial broadcasts.

Howard Coble (R-NC), Steve Cohen, (D-TN), Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) were among those voicing support for the proposal to end the terrestrial broadcast sound recording performance royalty exemption.

The three main arguments for this according to Berman:

    • The exemption was never justified under copyright law
      Calbe, Satellite and Internet have to pay these royalties. There should be no discrimination based on platform.
      US us the only major country that doesn't have a sound recording performance right.
  • Terrestrial broadcasters currently only pay royalties to the composers of the music; the "musical work". They do not pay for the use of the sound recording. In 2005, broadcasters paid $450 million in muscical work performance royalties.

    Issa stated that congress is preparing to reorganize section 114 of the copyright act. (This is the sections that covers royalties for internet, satellite and cable services and provides exemptions for some other uses, such as use of music in business environments.)

    Issa spoke a lot about HD radio, and the threat it makes to sale of CDs. He is under the impression that the 64kb or lower compressed digital audio sounds as good as CD. HD does not stand for High Definition. It stands for "Hybrid Digital". Unlike HDTV, which improved the signal quality delivered to consumers, HD radio is not a marked improvement. Signal to noise ratios are improved, but there are audible compression artifacts in the audio.

    Issa also talked about a flood of HD radio recording devices that automatically split tracks coming out soon. (I think he's extremely wrong on this, there is so little uptake on HD hardware, there are only 2 or 3 HD radios on the market right now, and they're selling very poorly. I've heard a statistic several times that say an American is more likely to be run over by a bus than they are to listen to HD radio in the last year.)

    Steve Cohen, who represents Memphis, TN,

    San Jose, CA representative Zoe Lofgren was the only rep to speak out on the importance of small, independent internet (and non-internet) braodcasters. While she's not necessarily opposing the rate, she wants a rate that won't hurt small and non-commercial broadcasters.

    (more later)

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    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    San Francisco power outage, SomaFM outage

    There was a power outage affecting downtown San Francisco today, which also caused an outage at SomaFM's primary datacenter, 365 Main. Note that we've been there for about 2 years now, and this is the first power outage that's affected us. They had another outage right before we moved in, due to a faulty fire alarm which cut power to most of the building.

    Now, a "world class datacenter" is supposed to have all sorts of redundant systems in place. And they did. But a slightly unusual series of events proved that even with all that redundancy, things can go very wrong. Here's what really went down at 365main as far as I can tell:

    365 Main, like most facilities built by Above.net back in the day, doesn't have a battery backup UPS. Instead, they have a "CPS", or continuious power system. What they are is very very large flywheels that sit between electric motors and generators. So the power from PG&E never directly touches 365main. PGE power drives the motors which turn the flywheels which then turn the generators (or alternators, I don't remember the exact details) which in turn power the facility. There are 10 of these on their roof (or as they call it, the mezzanine; it's basically a covered roof). These CPS units isolate the facility from power surges, brownouts and blackouts.

    The flywheels (the CPS system) can run the generator at full load for up to 60 seconds according to the specs.

    There are also 10 large diesel engines up on the roof as well, connected to these CPS units. If the power is out for more than 15 seconds (as I recall, I could be wrong on the exact time), the generators start up, and clutch in and drive the flywheels.

    There is a large fuel storage tank in the basement, and the fuel is pumped up to the roof. There are smaller fuel tanks on the roof as well, with enough capacity to run all the generators until the fuel starts getting pumped up to the roof.

    Here's what I suspect happened:

    It was reported there were several brief outages in a row before the power went out for good, so I bet the CPS (flywheel) systems weren't fully back up to speed when the next sequential outage occurred. Since several of these grid power interruption happened in a row, and were shorter than the time required to trigger generator startup, the generators were not automatically started, BUT the CPS didn't have time to get back up to full capacity. By the 6th power glitch, there wasn't enough energy stored in the flywheels to keep the system going long enough for the diesel generators to start up and come to speed before switching over.

    Why they just didn't manually switch on the generators at that point is beyond me. (I bet they will next time!)

    So they had a brief power outage. By our logs, it looks like it was at the most 2 minutes, but probably closer to 20 seconds or so.

    So it looks like the diesels did cut over, but not before the CPS was exhausted in some cases. The whole facility did not lose power I'm told, just most of it.

    Here's the letter their noc sent to customers about this:

    This afternoon a power outage in San Francisco affected the 365 Main St. data center. In the process of 6 cascading outages, one of the outages was not protected and reset systems in many of the colo facilities of that building.

    This resulted in the following:

    - Some of our routers were momentarily down, causing network issues. These were resolved within minutes. Network issues would have been noticed in our San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland facilities.

    - DNS servers lost power and did not properly come back up. This has been resolved after about an hour of downtime and may have caused issues for many GNi customers that would appear as network issues

    - Blades in the BC environment were reset as a result of the power loss. While all boxes seem to be back up we are investigating issues as they come in

    - One of our SAN systems may have been affected. This is being checked on right now

    If you have been experiencing network or DNS issues, please test your connections again. Note that blades in the DVB environment were not affected.

    We apologize for this inconvenience. Once the current issues at hand are resolved, we will be investigating why the redundancy in our colocation power did not work as it should have, and we will be producing a postmortem report.

    Lots of companies were affected. There was a huge line to get into the data center. It was definitely the most people I've ever seen there!

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