Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A gold medal for the BBC's Internet coverage of the Olympics

BBC's Olympic Internet coverage was better than NBC's. In this post I'll tell you why I say that and also take a look at BBC's terrific Sports blog.

I watched both the BBC and NBC Olympic coverage on the Internet and the BBC did a better job than NBC. Four BBC pluses come to mind.

1. The BBC Web viewer was more interactive, less passive and TV-like, than NBC's and they are continuing to improve it. As you see here, the user could display and hide data on demand and jump to the start of a "chapter" corresponding to an event.


2. I watched the BBC stream via a VPN, which, as shown below, slowed my connection considerably.


In spite of the increased latency and decreased speed, the BBC's video experience was as watchable as the video when using YouTube's content delivery network in the US.

3. Many of the NBC events I watched were video feeds with no commentary and every event I watched on the BBC had commentary. That could have been random chance and I watched more NBC than BBC, but it was my experience. (Commentary is more important for some events than others and some people dislike it. Users should be able to toggle commentary and the ambient sound on and off).

4. The BBC was commercial free -- paid for by the British TV license fee.

The BBC also wins the gold medal for Olymic blogging. The developers of BBC sports have a blog with suprisingly informative posts, and around 20 of the recent posts pertain to the Olympics.

Here are snippets from a couple that caught my eye.

Phil Fearnley, General Manager, News and Knowlege at BBC Future Media outlined their goals for the Olympic coverage and placed it in historical context.

The goal was to deliver over 2,500 hours of live sport online via 24 high definition streams - to cover every sport, from every venue on every day – across four screens: PC, mobile, tablet and connected TV. There were not 24 events going at all times, but the screenshot below was taken at a moment when there were -- the user could choose among 24 video streams.


Finley saw this as the start of a new era, writing
Broadcast television’s first big moment was the coronation in 1953, which brought the nation together around the TV screen for the first time. Our aspiration is that 2012 will do for digital and connected televisions what the coronation did for TV.

Cait O'Riordan, Head of Product, BBC Sport presented some statistics and analysis of the site traffic.

Below, you see the number (millions) of people watching the six streams with highest peaks on the first of August. People could easily switch between streams, and chapter links on the time-line let them find specific events they were interested in.


This graph shows relative usage during the day for each of the four screen types between July 28 and Aug 9. It looks like people watched on their computers (at work?) during the day and took their tablets to bed during the evening.


Matthew Clark, the Senior Technical Architect for BBC Online's Olympic website and apps described the site architecture. Here is his architecture diagram -- frustratingly small and impossible to read, but it conveys complexity:


In the post, Clark states that "Over the coming months we'll be working on bringing many of these features to the rest of Sport, and perhaps other parts of BBC Online too."

Alex Perry, Project Manager for the Live Interactive Video Player, outlined its key capabilities, including:
  • Easy switching between up to 24 live streams at any time
  • The ability to pause and rewind live video or jump straight to key moments you may have missed by using chapter markers (eg the Men's 100m final)
  • Alerts for the key events that have happened or are coming up so you don't miss the moments that matter to you
  • Extra facts and info on the sports and competitors you are watching alongside the video

this gives you a taste of the blogs -- if you are a live-stream event coverage geek, be sure to check them out.

Why did BBC do better than NBC? Two things come to mind. BBC's non-commercial culture makes a difference -- the viewers are their customers while NBC's customers are their advertisers. There is another clue in two of the tags on the BBC blog posts open source and open standards. Those tags indicate that BBC "gets" the Internet, and maybe NBC doesn't.

Regardless, the BBC team gets the gold medal for streaming live events.

(I've written several other posts on NBC's coverage of the Olympics and the Tour de France. You can see links to my observations as well as predictions for future event coverage here).