Pity the poor folks at the BBC, official broadcaster of the London 2012 Olympic games, who were tasked with trying to calculate how much extra capacity they needed to deliver online video coverage of the world’s biggest televisual event, spanning nearly three weeks.
And celebrate them for delivering spectacularly well, despite traffic levels being on average 20 times higher than at the Beijing games four years previously, as revealed by Richard Cooper, controller of digital distribution at the BBC, during his keynote presentation at the Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam this morning.
“There were three things we were focused on achieving with our online coverage of these games, ” said the BBC man. “Never miss a moment, that is to say make every moment available online both live and on-demand; put the user in control, by offering that proposition on every device that we can; establish a legacy platform that we can use in future; and deliver it across four screens – the TV, PC, iPad and mobile.”
The scale of the task in hand was clearly not taken lightly: the BBC replaced every single piece of technology it uses to deliver video online in order to meet the challenge, and formed agreements with two separate Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) in order to ensure 100 per cent availability at all times.
Adaptive bit-rate delivery was used wherever possible, and the maximum bit-rate of delivery was capped depending on technology, device and window size, with bit-rates ranging from 56 Kbps to 3.2 Mbps.
Clearly then, the UK broadcaster was not taking this task lightly, and Cooper revealed during his presentation that he and his team had been in talks with domestic network operators (both fixed and mobile) for over two years prior to the event to forecast traffic patterns and anticipate pinch points.
Just as well they did – despite Beijing still being in a friendly timezone for UK audiences, traffic was still 20 times higher this time round, with 30 petabytes of video delivered over the duration. Peak-time calculations proved prudent: the BBC was ready to deliver 1,000 Gbps of video per second, and it delivered 700 Gbps at the height of demand.
Regarding delivery over mobile networks, the BBC exec stated that despite his belief that delivery of content over these networks is still very young, they delivered a “great service” with little congestion through the traffic peaks.
Repeating his view that partnerships (with operators in particular) were critical to the success of this venture, the massive investment required appears to have been worthwhile: 96 per cent of users of the iPlayer-delivered service rated it as “good”, and well over half of UK adults (62 per cent) used the service at some point during the games.
“For us it was a privilege, and I wish the best to those who have to do the same thing for Rio in four years’ time,” said Cooper – with perhaps just a hint of relief.