Shocking claims about online radio in SA

IT analyst Shaun Dewberry released a report called “The Truth Behind Streaming Internet Radio in South Africa”, saying that the listenership claimed by many online radio stations consists of “complete fabrications. Utter nonsense. Lies, even”.

Dewberry’s report followed claims by online radio stations such as Ballz Visual Radio and 2OceansVibe Radio that they have tens of thousands of listeners per hour.

Ballz Visual Radio founder Darren Scott said in early June their “weekly statistics for May show an average hourly listenership of just over 51,000 between 12:00 and 18:00”.

Scott told MyBroadband that their listener figures are based on the technical feedback which they receive from their streaming partner NetDynamix.

Scott was transparent about their statistics, and provided MyBroadband with one of the recent listener reports which they received from NetDynamix.

NetDynamix's claimed Ballz listener stats
NetDynamix's claimed Ballz listener stats

It is currently uncertain where these statistics come from, and how it is calculated. MyBroadband asked NetDynamix’s Chris Grant for an explanation about these statistics, but he did not provide feedback by the time of publication.

Dewberry rubbished these claims saying that actual statistics from Shoutcast, which is used by Ballz radio to relay and distribute their audio streams, tells a very different story.

According to a publicly available Shoutcast D.N.A.S. (Dynamic Network Authentication System) Status webpage, Ballz Visual Radio had only 206 active listeners at 16:00 on Monday 25 June, and a listener peak of 831 since their last server restart. This is a far cry from the claimed peak of close to 60,000 listeners, said Dewberry.

Shoutcast Ballz Visual Radio screenshot
Shoutcast Ballz Visual Radio screenshot

2OceansVibe Radio

On its website, 2OceansVibe Radio, the company states that “true measured stats show a daily listenership of 15,000 for 2OceansVibe Radio”.

2OceansVibe Radio co-founder Richard Hardiman quoted a much higher listenership, saying that their “current listenership over an hour – people coming in and people coming out – rates at about 60,000 an hour”.

However, Dewberry said that the publicly available Shoutcast D.N.A.S. Status page shows that the radio station had only 24 active listeners and a peak listenership of 122.

Shoutcast 2Oceansvibe Radio server screenshot
Shoutcast 2Oceansvibe Radio server screenshot

2OceansVibe founder and CEO Seth Rotherham said that he finds the accusations alarming and needs to read through Dewberry’s report thoroughly with his partners in 2OceansVibe Radio.

“I have in the meantime requested an urgent response from NetDynamix who supply us with our listenership figures,” said Rotherham.

Stats provided by NetDynamix

Ballz Visual Radio and 2OceansVibe receive their statistics from their streaming provider NetDynamix. Dewberry said that he suspects that NetDynamix is actually to blame for the false figures because of the information they receive from the streaming provider.

NetDynamix’s Chris Grant explained that they use three different servers to stream Ballz Visual Radio – Shoutcast, a Flash Media Server, and an Icecast server. Grant said that they use the Shoutcast server mainly for BlackBerry and Android streaming, which means that the publicly available Shoutcast figures do not tell the full story.

However, Dewberry disputes this claim. “I have examined the HTML source for all the different types of players available (Flash, Windows Media, Realplayer and desktop, etc) and they all point to a single IP address per online station, all running Shoutcast, meaning a single instance of Shoutcast is used per radio station. No links point to any other servers,” said Dewberry.

“At one stage I went so far as to decrypt the iPhone application for one of these stations to confirm it too pointed to the same Shoutcast-based IP address for that station.”

MyBroadband also checked the source of streaming Ballz Visual Radio using iTunes (hence a device other than Android and BlackBerry) and Windows Media player, and the source was indeed the Shoutcast server which Dewberry said.

Dewberry also disputes Grant’s claims of using a Flash Media server or an Icecast server: “None of the published links for any of NetDynamix stations point to anything that resembles a Flash Media Server.”

“The published links are where the user connects to the radio station and if these links point to a particular source IP address, that is then the only source of the stream. I have not found any of the links they publish pointing to an Icecast server,” said Dewberry.

Grant further said that they use the Internap CDN (content delivery network) which should be taken into account when calculating listener statistics.

Dewberry said that this makes very little difference. “The AS number (routing number) for the network on which NetDynamix hosts their services is controlled by PlusServer may peer with Internap, but I don’t have access to that info right now, and it means very little,” said Dewberry.

Drewberry's explanation of Ballz radio stats
Drewberry's explanation of Ballz radio stats

Expert opinion

Let’s Talk Network founder and media streaming expert Tim Haak, who is well known for streaming media events across the country, said that after he read Dewberry’s report (specifically the streaming audio statistics), he does not see any problems with Dewberry’s reasoning.

Haak said that the publicly available Shoutcast statistics give a good overview of real listener numbers.

Haak further highlighted that the Ballz Visual Radio streaming server seems to have a 3,000 active listener limit, which raises further questions about the 50,000 hourly listener claims by Ballz Visual Radio. The 2OceansVibe Radio server seems to have a 1,500 concurrent listener restriction.

Haak highlighted that NetDynamix may use a load balancer to spread the demand over multiple servers (and that we hence are only seeing the stats from a single server), but he added that there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case.

Top Internet radio stations

It is interesting to note that the top Internet radio stations in the world had between 4,000 and 13,000 listeners at 17:00 on 25 June.

If listenership figures for Ballz Visual Radio and 2OceansVibe Radio are accurate, it will make them two of the top radio stations globally.

Top Shoutcast Internet radio stations
Top Shoutcast Internet radio stations

Grant said that they will meet with their lawyers this afternoon, and will issue a full statement about Dewberry’s accusations by the end of the day.

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Shocking claims about online radio in SA