//Ulrikke Albertsen /August 16 / 2012
BBC Olympics digital video strategy holds lessons for multi-screen future
Digital technology is radically remaking media, and while many people focus on the changes brought to the newspapers, publishing and music industries, digital technology is bringing about one of the most fundamental transformations in the history of television. First, digital technology radically expanded multi-channel television via cable and satellite. Now live streamingStreaming1) technology that permits continuous audio and video delivered to a computer…//read more and video on demand via mobile, tablets, internet and smart TV platforms looks set to radically reshape viewing habits by giving consumers unprecedented choice of when, where and how they will view TV. If you want to see a glimpse of the future of TV, you only have to look at how the BBC delivered what they called the “first proper digital Olympics” and how consumers responded.
The BBC’s London 2012 Olympics coverage was not only properly digital, but properly multi-platform and properly comprehensive. The BBC described this as a four-screen strategy, reaching viewers via PC, mobile, tablet and internet-connected TV. The public broadcaster delivered nearly day-long coverage on five of its nine linear channels and every minute of every event, 2,500 hours of coverage, via live, HD streams via desktop computers, smartphones, tablets and internet protocol TV (IPTVIPTV (Internet Protocol television)Generally refers to video programming offered by telecom companies over copper…//read more ) platforms. This was a thousand more hours of coverage than they provided for Beijing in 2008, and the 24 HD streams were six times more than they delivered four years ago. It was a monumental task that required months of testing before the games.
The BBC delivered a smartphone app built specifically for the games, and the broadcaster launched a new video player via its Sports website that allowed people to view and time shift 24 streams of video. Users could easily move back and forth through the live video stream to see previous events via clear navigation that broke the stream into events, highlighting the ones in which British athletes took part. It was more like visually navigating through the chapters of a DVD than the normal online video presentation that only provides the ability to rewind without a clear sense of key moments.
IPTV platforms have matured dramatically in the UK since the 2008 Beijing Olymics, the BBC used these platforms to ensure the widest distribution of its Olympics coverage. The BBC used its IPTV platform, iPlayer, to stream live coverage of its three network channels. Additionally, BBC delivered the same 24 live and catch-up video streams to internet connected TVs, such as Sony Smart TV, PlayStation 3, Virgin Media TiVo, through an (IPTV) service called “Red Button” that gave audiences more flexibility and interactivity as the Games happened. On free-to-air digital TV service, Freeview, the Red Button feature is used to access digital text services and also extra programme channels. After the Olympics, the BBC will be focusing on IPTV services on the Red Button service.
How consumers responded
The scale of delivery is something that very few broadcasters apart from the BBC could achieve. However, this monumental project provides us valuable insights into how consumers will consume video-on-demandOn-demandThe ability to request video, audio, or information to be sent to the screen…//read more services on new platforms.
British viewers definitely embraced the BBC’s multi-platform offering. Taking into account both website traffic and digital video streaming, “the BBC delivered 2.8 petabytes, with the peak traffic moment occurring when Bradley Wiggins won Gold and we shifted 700 Gb/s”, Cait O’Riordan, Head of Product, BBC Sport and London 2012, said.
In total, the BBC received 106m video requests across its digital platforms. This was more than three times the 32m online videos requested during the 2008 Games, and the most BBC has ever received. The majority of these online video requests, 62m, were for live-streams, while only 8m were for on-demand live streams and 35m were for short-form clips.
One challenge in designing the service was to allow viewers to not only time-shift within a video stream but also to quickly and easily move between streams of the various sports on offer. O’Riordan said.
Our aim was to put audiences in control of their Olympics experience, transforming the way they could navigate through the huge breadth of coverage using the extra features of the interactive video player.
The BBC found that users did indeed take advantage of this option. The corporation’s data clearly shows people moving across channels and platforms to check out a whole hostHostAny computer on a network that offers services or connectivity to other…//read more of different events. Whether they were carrying high-profile or esoteric, little-supported events, all 24 of the streams were being used. According to the head of product, O’Riordan, every one of the streams saw at least 100,000 users – a considerable audience for narrowcast events – at some point during the two weeks of games.
O’Riordan also points out how in a four-screen world, consumption patterns shift noticeably through the day as they travel to work, are at work, are at home in front of the TV and then take a tablet to bed. She said:
• PC usage maxes out during the week at lunchtime and during mid-afternoon peak Team GB moments.
• Mobile takes over around 6pm as people leave the office but still want to keep up to date with the latest action
• Tablet usage reaches a peak at around 9pm: people using them as a second screen experience as they watch the Games on their TVs, and also as they continue to watch in bed.
Mobile and tablet accounted for 41 percent of IP video stream viewing during the games, the BBC said, and in the US, NBC said that the figure was 45 percent, showing the dramatic potential for mobile video viewing once the networks are in place to support this kind of activity.
It is also important to note that with all of this digital consumption, the Olympics was a huge draw for traditional TV viewers wanting to cheer on the home team. The BBC announced that a staggering 90% of the entire British population watched at least 15 minutes of its Olympics coverage either on linear TV or via the Red Button service.
The future: Coming to a screen near you
Being able to reachReach1) unique users that visited the site over the course of the reporting period,…//read more audiences with your programming no matter where they are or which device they are using holds huge opportunities for broadcasters. The BBC’s four-screen strategy for London 2012 shows a glimpse of the digital future, but it is a future that is coming to your market as IPTV platforms proliferate and mobile networks become faster and more robust. Broadcast markets around the world are making the switch from analogue to digital, whether that is free-to-air terrestrial services, digital satellite, IPTV or new mobile and tablet apps.
By 2015, the number of IPTV subscribers globally is expected to grow from 53 million in 2011 to 105.1 million, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.7%, according to a new report “IPTV Global Forecast: 2011 to 2015 Report” by MRG Multimedia Research Group. The service revenue for the world IPTV market will grow at a CAGR of 20% to reach $45.3bn. The rise in revenue will be driven by dramatic IPTV growth emerging markets, such as Brazil and Russia, albeit from a low base. A 2011 report predicts that IPTV subscribers in Brazil will from 21,000 in 2011 to 1.5m by 2016, according to Pyramid Research.
This future may seem a long way off, but the BBC began to position itself for a digital video future more than a decade ago. In 2001, work began on its ground-breaking TV on-demand iPlayer platform which now spans online, smart TVs, and mobile devices. Whilst the BBC has the advantage of enormous resources and infrastructure, there are important steps that all broadcasters can take to prepare for the digital future.
What comes across loud and clear is that consumers will embrace choice when given the opportunity. Broadcasters and other content creators should remember this as they position themselves to take advantage of digital opportunities. The other lesson is that with multiple screens comes a range of new viewing patterns as video content can follow a viewer throughout the day. Prime time may mean something quite different depending on the device and delivery method. Successful broadcasters of the future will be ready to serve consumers when, where and how they want.
Article by Ulrikke Albertsen