Smoking gun in online radio fight

New evidence substantiates Shaun Dewberry’s claims that the listenership of online radio stations like Ballz Visual Radio and 2Oceansvibe radio are massively inflated, and are in fact only a small fraction of the quoted figures.

Last week Dewberry released a scathing report about the inflated online radio listenership statistics in South Africa, arguing that the actual listenership is publically visible on the Shoutcast streaming server used by NetDynamix, which supply streaming services to Ballz Visual Radio and 2Oceansvibe Radio.

NetDynamix hit back, saying that Dewberry does not have full and unhindered access to their entire network, and that his assumptions are wrong.

NetDynamix spokesperson Hanz Stricker and NetDynamix CEO Chris Grant told MyBroadband that they use both Shoutcast servers, behind a load balancer, and Flash Media Servers (as part of a CDN) to serve their streams.

Grant previously told MyBroadband that they use Shoutcast, Icecast, and an Internap CDN, and that they use their Shoutcast server mainly for BlackBerry and Android streaming. Grant has now clarified this statement, saying that they moved away from the Internap CDN months ago. There is also no mention of any Icecast server.

MyBroadband asked for a meeting with NetDynamix to gain insight into the figures provided to their clients, to gain access to the log files used to generate the listener figures, and to validate the existence of the disputed Flash server infrastructure reportedly used by NetDynamix.

MyBroadband asked for the presence of respected IT expert, Neology director Roelf Diedericks at the meeting to bring high level technical skills to the party.

MyBroadband initially asked for a meeting on Thursday, but Grant asked for a postponement and agreed to meet on Friday 29 June with all the requested information to put this issue to bed.

Disputed Flash Media Server

Dewberry’s report bases its findings on a single Shoutcast server, but NetDynamix argued that most of their streaming is done through their Flash Media Server CDN.

Dewberry disputed the existence of Flash Media Server streaming by NetDynamix for Ballz Visual Radio and 2Oceansvibe Radio, and argued that NetDynamix made changes to its streaming services after his report.

To prove Dewberry wrong, NetDynamic could provide the following proof of its Flash Media Server streaming infrastructure:

  • The log files from their Flash Media Server streaming;
  • Access the log files on these servers to verify the authenticity of the log files;
  • Invoices from their Flash Media Server infrastructure provider over the last few months, which can then be verified with the providers they use; and
  • The reports which Grant said he received from his Flash Media Server partner, which were used to calculate the listener statistics for Ballz Visual Radio and 2Oceansvibe Radio.

MyBroadband asked Grant to be prepared with all the needed information for the Friday meeting, and here is what happened and where this issue currently stands.

  • Flash Media Server log files: NetDynamix could not provide any log files, and could also not provide access to the servers as requested. When pushed for access to the servers, Grant said that he would have to contact his network specialist which is based in Russia for the needed information. When trying to contact him Grant however said that his phone died, and that all the details were on his phone. Diedericks, the independent technical expert, was then promised a session with NetDynamix’s network specialist before Friday night, but this never happened.
  • Invoices from their Flash Media Server infrastructure provider: Grant said that he did not have this information at hand, but promised to send it to MyBroadband. To date this has not happened.
  • Flash Media Server stats reports from their provider: Grant said that he did not have this information at hand, but promised to send it to MyBroadband. To date this has not happened.
  • The reports from NetDynamix Flash Media Server partner: Grant said that he does not have any of these files at hand because his computer with these files crashed. He promised to provide this information, but to date MyBroadband has not received any of these files.

MyBroadband has therefore not received any evidence that NetDynamix used Flash Media Server streaming before Dewberry’s report.

Changing of infrastructure after Dewberry’s report

Dewberry said that the Flash Media Server component was only deployed after his allegations. “An attempt to cover up/build a CDN all of a sudden?” asked Dewberry.

If NetDynamix started to use different server infrastructure, the company would have been forced to change its web applets which it serves to users who listen to the stream through a browser.

Dewberry provided two sets of evidence that this is indeed the case.

Dewberry showed that the initial version of the Flash player (which he used to do his testing) was pointing to NetDynamix’s Shoutcast server (IP address MyBroadband can confirm that this player was used by Ballz Visual Radio shortly after Dewberry’s report.

Old Ballz Flash Media player
Old Ballz Flash Media player

MyBroadband was also using Windows Media player to listen to Ballz Visual Radio on Monday 25 June, which also pointed to the Shoutcast server.

Old Ballz Windows Media player
Old Ballz Windows Media player

These two players, which used the Shoutcast server, seem to have been replaced by a new Flash player which points to a Flash Media Server.

NetDynamix CEO Chris Grant was asked about this apparent change, but he denied that any applet changes took place in recent weeks.

However, Diedericks showed that both the Ballz Visual Radio and 2Oceansvibe Radio files were modified on Tuesday, 26 June 2012, 08:31:02 GMT. This is one day after Dewberry released his report.

Ballz NetDynamix file modification dates
Ballz NetDynamix file modification dates

Grant was asked about the “Last-Modified” date of 26 June, but he said that he cannot explain why this date appeared on the files.

On Friday 29 June the last modified date of the 2Oceansvibe Radio files became 5 March 2012, 07:12:00 GMT, while the last modified date for the Ballz Visual Radio file changed to, 8 March, 06:00:00 GMT.

Ballz NetDynamics flashplayer2.htm modification date (new)
Ballz NetDynamics flashplayer2.htm modification date (new)

Grant was asked about the difference between the recorded last modified date of the files from Wednesday to Friday, but again the NetDynamix CEO said that he could not explain it.

Disputed load balancer

Another disputed claim by NetDynamix is that they use a load balancer for their Shoutcast servers.

Let’s Talk Network founder and media streaming expert Tim Haak said that there is no evidence to suggest that NetDynamix is using a load balancer for their Shoutcast servers.

Diedericks also said that from his “basic checking” NetDynamix is not using load balancing. “If there were, then the /24 I just used to test, would have yielded different Shoutcast servers, with differing stats (depending on which balanced host was being hit), and differing server ID’s during my basic poking,” said Diedericks in a comment on Dewberry’s original blog post.

MyBroadband replicated Diedericks’ experiment using different connections, different computers and different platforms, but we could also not find a single instance of a different Shoutcast server for a specific radio station.

Grant maintained that they are using a load balancer for their Shoutcast infrastructure. When asked to connect to the system and show the different logs for each server for Ballz Visual Radio, Grant said that he did not have the details of the system and needed to contact a technical employee who was based in Russia.

Grant was asked to contact the needed person to get the information of the system to verify the information (including the log files) provided by NetDynamix, but he said that his phone died and that the contact details for the person was on his phone.

Damning proof

NetDynamix told MyBroadband that 90% of Ballz Radio’s listeners make use of a Flash Media player or Windows media player to listen to Ballz Visual Radio.

Grant confirmed that the only way people can access these two players are through their one web server, hosted at MWEB. There is hence a single web server from which log files can be obtained to gain insight into how many times each player is served daily.

MyBroadband obtained Apache log files for the Ballz Radio part of NetDynamix’s web server as part of the meeting, and with Diederick’s help both parties (NetDynamix and MyBroadband) could verify that the statistics were authentic.

The Apache log files revealed damning evidence that the new Flash player (called flashplayer2.htm), which connects to NetDynamic’s Flash Media Server, only became available on 26 June 2012. This is exactly what Dewberry and Diedericks said.

Number of files served on NetDynamix web server
Number of files served on NetDynamix web server

Before 26 June 2012 the old Flash media player (flashplayer.htm), which uses the Shoutcast server, was used for Ballz Radio.

These Apache log files provide clear evidence that changes were made on 26 June as highlighted by Dewberry and Diedericks. It also sheds tremendous doubt over claims by Grant that no changes were made to their web applets since Ballz Visual Radio was launched in April.

According to one industry player, who asked not to be named, it is likely that someone changed the “last modified” date of these files after Diederick’s public post on the matter to try to hide their tracks.

Many people may also deduce that the changes made to the Windows media player on 26 June means that this player also used the Shoutcast server previously.

Furthermore, it is curious that the previous “true” Windows media player seemed to have effectively been replaced with the new flashplayer2.htm. This does not make sense since it removes a popular way for Windows users to listen to the show (especially if the user opted not to install Flash on his computer).

Also see:

The listenership of 2Oceansvibe and Ballz Visual Radio from log files provided by NetDynamix

The importance of respected and verifiable statistics

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Smoking gun in online radio fight