It’s generally accepted that podcasting began to truly coalesce into a recognizable medium in late 2004. Considering the timeframe, it’s no surprise that mp3 became the most popular choice for audio encoding of podcasts. Other formats were definitely available. But mp3 files were a ubiquitous part of the digital-music revolution that had taken place in the years leading up to podcasting’s beginning. Due to its widespread use by consumers, mp3 was an obvious choice for podcasters to use when encoding their shows.
Every few years, one group or another would make some noise about how podcasting needed a “better,” or more “modern” format for encoding audio. Despite those efforts, nothing came around that worked as a true replacement for mp3.
Fraunhofer, the German technology company that’s held patent and licensing rights for the mp3 format for decades, recently announced that its mp3 licensing program was terminated:
On April 23, 2017, Technicolor’s mp3 licensing program for certain mp3 related patents and software of Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS has been terminated.
We thank all of our licensees for their great support in making mp3 the defacto audio codec in the world, during the past two decades.
In its statement, Fraunhofer noted that there are more advanced audio codes available today, like AAC. This statement led to a chorus of “mp3 is dead!” cries from the tech press. Marco Arment, developer of the popular podcast app Overcast, took to his blog to shoot down the notion that the mp3 format was now over:
MP3 is no less alive now than it was last month or will be next year — the last known MP3 patents have simply expired.
So while there’s a debate to be had — in a moment — about whether MP3 should still be used today, Fraunhofer’s announcement has nothing to do with that, and is simply the ending of its patent-licensing program (because the patents have all expired) and a suggestion that we move to a newer, still-patented format.
The “mp3 is dead” meme began to resonate at such a high pitch that Fraunhofer came back a few days later to clarify what its original statement actually means:
…does this mean that mp3 is really dead now, as we have read often in the last few days? Of course not! mp3 is a phenomenon, which changed our way of consuming music forever, and is very much alive in 2017.
The licensing program coming to an end is due to the fact that the last patent included in the program expired. In no way does that mean that the usage permit ends. The only ones deciding on the “death” of mp3 will be the users, who might switch to more modern audio formats at some point, such as AAC, which is included in almost every smartphone today.
It seems inevitable that some other format will eventually eclipse mp3 for both music and spoken-word audio. But that day is not yet upon us. If you’ve been concerned about this news and contemplating a format change for your show, relax! MP3 is likely to still be here for quite some time.