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On UK Radio Player - and the importance of solid metadata


A couple of weeks ago saw the launch of UK Radio Player, a unified platform for the online distribution of vast amounts of UK radio - most importantly, bringing together content from the BBC and commercial radio. It's a huge achievement logistically, technically... and not least politically. I won't try to describe it - go see for yourself. 


Launch your favourite BBC radio show from then use the search box. See how those results are drawn from across the entire UK radio industry? Now that's innovation. Seriously, I spent a half decade of my working life in the BBC's Audio & Radio Interactive department - and have spent another half decade or more working with both BBC radio teams and commercial radio operators - and I can't tell you what a huge step forward this is.


Anyway, the service has been discussed elsewhere at length and in depth, as a model of collaborative business practice, as a blueprint for how the BBC can work with commercial operators, as a shining example of UI integration across multiple brands... and on and on.


But there's something else I'd like to say briefly here - and, well, given the context it's pretty obvious what that is. But to be clear: UK Radio Player is a metadata success story. Or at least is on the way to being one. You've heard this from me before. Here's me at a Partnering for Innovation presentation in London back in September:


"We all know the headlines: the content industries have been transformed by the advent of online technology. The TV, radio, games, music, book publishing, magazine and newspaper and advertising industries have variously changed in the last decade; at their best some companies and sectors been enhanced and revitalised - but yes, some have been left facing oblivion. Meanwhile, entirely new markets have been born - think about the App economy, lately reckoned to be worth $2billion... But here's something which doesn't grab the headlines: many of the success stories buried in there are essentially metadata stories." 


Well, once again, the metadata angle on the Radio Player story is hardly going to grab any headlines, but the fact remains that this project stands or falls by the quality of the metadata underlying it: data about artists, tracks, shows, presenters, music genres, news and discussion topics ... and that's just on the supply side. Think about all the possibilities around personalisation and recommendation that smart deconstruction of user metadata allow. Imagine tracking of prefs integrated with the Radio Player.


Well, I'm getting ahead of myself. In truth, the player is a long way from delivering all of that just yet. Play around with it a little bit and you'll start to get a feeling for what data sets do underly it - and which ones don't. You'll also start to sense which radio networks have got their own metadata in order from the frequency with which they turn up in search results. (Interestingly, the BBC performed pretty poorly in the first few days after launch, which felt weird when searching from within the BBC-branded iteration of the player - but that seems all sorted a couple of weeks on from launch.)


It'll be fascinating to follow the development of the project, and to see how far it can go in delivering a world-beating internet radio proposition - and from my point of view that's going to depend very largely on the kinds of resources which are brought to bear on a shared metadata infrastructure. In the meantime, it's made a fine start. 

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