IP Contributions on the Radio

This morning I Tweeted this, and it got more than a few likes:

(NB. I apologise for the misplaced apostrophe in end’s – it should have been ends’. And using both today and this morning was tautological.)

This came after I heard two interviews on Radio 4’s Today programme, and a third on Five Live, all of which had to be abandoned earlier than planned when the IP audio delivery with the remote contributor started to break down.

Now, I realise that in all of these cases, someone on the production will have probably given the contributors advice about how to sound good, ideally using wired internet connections, or at least being in a good WiFi area. They’ll have told the contributors to make sure that others weren’t using the internet at the same time, as well as ensuring that they’re they’re using the best microphone that they have to hand and so on.

And I know that when these kind of remote contributions work, they sound good. But in every case today, I heard the telltale sounds of the bitrate changes mid conversation. We’ve all used Skype or similar and heard the same thing. The audio suddenly changes from clear to closer to telephone call quality, before getting better again.

The problem is that to the listener, this detracts enormously from the message, because it’s very distracting. In every circumstance it would have been better if the interview had been conducted at a lower bandwidth all the way along. In many cases, a phone call would have sufficed if the line was clear.

I realise that these systems do usually work. I’ve been a contributor to podcasts and broadcasts myself, without any perceivable problems. Likewise, I know that phone interviews have to be abandoned when they line drops in quality, the presenter apologising and suggesting that they might try again (They rarely do though, because in the case of breakfast radio, the schedules are planned to within an inch of their lives).

But I would strongly argue that a consistent sound at a lower bitrate – i.e. phone quality – is better for listeners than a flaky connection at a higher quality.