BBC Launches Universal Live Streaming Platform

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The BBC is launching a new cross-device digital platform with which to serve viewers online coverage of live events.

In beta since November, the service will be given its first run out in support of the Winter Olympics next month but is designed for adaptation for other BBC live events, including The FIFA World Cup and XX Commonwealth Games in 2014, and other events like Radio One Big Weekend, the Edinburgh Festival, light entertainment shows like Strictly Come Dancing, and election specials in the future.

The development is line with the BBC's vision, outlined by Director General Tony Hall in October, to give a pronounced role to digital in the corporation's strategy.

"The new web product has its roots in London 2012 and is based on an understanding of what our audience wants from online," says Neil Hall, executive product manager, BBC Sport. "Audiences enjoy a sense of being at the heart of events and in control of how they choose to watch across devices."

This is also in tune with the findings of analyst Ovum's Trends to Watch in 2014 report on broadcast and payTV, which states that there is a growing recognition of the need to enable cross-platform access to content from multiple sources via a common user interface.

"We've built new capability so that this product will allow a consistent user experience across four companion screens, but we've also built it in an event-agnostic way to work for sports in 2014," says Hall, "so it can be easily rolled out to any other live news or cultural events. It's build once, use many times and so it's generic, flexible and scalable to traffic requirements."

The BBC's digital strategy is driven by terrific growth in viewing of its content on mobile and tablets. Indeed mobile and tablets accounted for a record 72% of total UK BBC Sport traffic on Boxing Day and 70% on New Year’s Day. Of this, mobiles contributed over 3.1m unique browsers on New Year’s Day, and tablets also passed the 1.5m barrier for the first time on January 01.

The new product plugs directly into BBC Sport online and mobile site and is also available from iPlayer. Pause and live rewind functionality is available for the desktop site.

For Sochi, the BBC concentrated on three main areas. According to Hall, "Content updates will appear almost a minute quicker than previously and we're working to optimise that speed further. This product will update automatically across mobile, tablet, and desktop device whereas in the past that was not the case.

"The second benefit is about control. We're making it really simple to access the six live streams from Sochi from a single url. The third is consistency of experience across devices. We know many of our audience will come to view the Winter Olympics by checking progress on mobiles on their way to work, at lunchtime on the desktop and at home on their tablet, so it's really important that it is easy for them to pick up content, "Hall says.

"If it works, then users don't need to know it exists. They just need to know they are getting a great live event experience.”

Whereas the BBC's London 2012 online coverage was centred on a video player, this revised product makes greater use of curated text commentary and data. The service will also be connected to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Further social, personal, and interactive elements are planned.

"We've reunited the video experience with the live text element," explains Hall. The text is a minute-by-minute text update from the BBC's editorial team which incorporates Tweets, emails, and other viewer comments.

The same digital infrastructure as used for 2012 is back in place for Sochi. Video will be sent back from Russia to MediacityUK in Salford, where the streams are encoded with Elemental technology and distributed via Limelight and Akamai CDNs.

Massive Interactive were employed to help with the design but the project was built in house. "Delivering video at scale across multiple devices was a challenge but we have great experience in that area and are confident we can deliver," says Hall. "We learned a lot from London 2012 and on events like Wimbledon and Glastonbury last year. We wanted a platform style approach so it would need to interface with a range of internal BBC systems, such as with news. Given all of that, it made sense for it to be done in house but we will open it up for a range of suppliers to work with us on future events, such as the World Cup."

Following Sochi and a period of evaluation the service will be expanded to other genre. "Once we have this bedded down we can start to ask how we could use its capability for other events, perhaps those broadcast events which were squeezed in the schedule we could do more for in digital. It opens the doors for future event coverage."

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