BBC puts local radio stations in the cloud

A pair of headphones resting on an audio mixer in a studio

The BBC has put four of its local radio stations in the cloud in a bid to cut costs and decrease upgrade times.

Its Virtual Local Radio project (ViLoR) has gone live at four local stations initially; BBC Radio Northampton, BBC Radio Suffolk, BBC Essex and BBC Three Counties Radio.

While the studios will appear to presenters and production staff as normal, the underlying equipment and infrastructure has moved to a central, shared location.

Editorial teams will have full control over the play-out system and mixing desks, but the actual audio files will be stored, streamed, mixed and processed in a remote datacentre, in real-time.

The BBC said the move to the cloud would "substantially reduce the cost and time needed to upgrade and run a typical Local Radio station".

It said the system was designed to ensure that only the back-end equipment is centralised so that editorial and production teams can continue to present from the local community just as they do today.

The system could eventually be used across the BBC’s 39 local radio stations as present systems reach the end of their natural technology life. It said the previous systems' traditional technology took around six to eight months to upgrade, but by sharing infrastructure and equipment across multiple sites, the BBC could substantially reduce costs, and time to refresh a single station to roughly eight weeks.

The cloud move also promises to improve audio quality as this data is not processed through a number of different formats, degrading quality on the way. The infrastructure also comes with social media management tools, enabling Twitter, text and Facebook messages to be aggregated and cleared for broadcast on the same screen that manages phone and Skype calls from the audience.

The cloud will also enable content to be shared more easily between local stations and allow stations to cover local events on-the-ground, such as county shows or music festivals more easily.

The rollout of ViLoR sees it go live at Radio Northampton with the remaining three stations to follow over the next nine months.

Peter Coles, interim CTO for the BBC, said the technology implementation at Northampton was "first, but significant, step toward us proving the potential for a fully virtualised BBC Local Radio network".

"I’m sure we’ll see the industry begin to adopt a similar approach," he said.

The BBC will look at how success the roll out is to the first four stations before implementing the cloud technology at the rest of its local stations.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.