Case Study: The Political Climate of Live Streaming

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The UNFCCC has used the webcast medium at these conferences for 10 years and, more recently, at all important committee meetings. The webcast offers media representatives, political observers, and interested citizens across the globe direct access to the negotiations. All official plenary sessions and press conferences are broadcast live and made available for online download within minutes. Many presentations by NGOs are also documented. The webcast is an important instrument in maintaining transparency within the entire negotiation process of climate politics and has now become a well-established work tool.

"Although the webcast is not an official document, negotiators are drawing on the webcast as a reference for political positions with increasing frequency. The webcast is thus supporting the negotiations right here on-site," says Alexander Saier of the UNFCCC.

"I believe that just as important is that-thanks to the webcast-the conference is not just limited to Copenhagen but is happening exactly where most discussion is taking place: on the internet," says Thomas Berghausen, managing director at meta-fusion.

Inside the Control Centre

A visit to the Webcast Centre, located in the isolated upper area of the conference building, provided a good behind-the-scenes insight into production. The Webcast Centre was provided with all the necessary data signals. A complete cable bundle delivered the video and audio signals in the various language versions. The signals were produced by the host broadcaster (Danish TV2/Denmark A/S). The scale was impressive: 54 cameras, 300 km of cable, 160 temporary cubicles for the media to work in, 2,400 microphones, and 2,000 spotlights. About 3,400 journalists and 70 television stations from across the world used the signals produced, far outpacing the media interest in previous political conferences. Three additional signal channels for the webcast could be used in the event of unexpected press conferences or other events, regardless of the official signal channels.

All this gives a clear impression of the size, significance, and scale of public interest in the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. Even greater than the physical capacity on-site were the estimates of the capacity required for the webcast. Five times as many viewers as at the previous year's summit in Poland were expected-there were, in fact, 20 times as many.

Expanding Capacity

This amount had been wholly unexpected, and it was clear from the opening event that the calculated server capacity with regard to the web server would not be sufficient.

"Until now, we had been able to serve the U.N. climate change conferences with individual, high-performance servers," says Björn Starr, development director at meta-fusion. "However, at Copenhagen, we could not take any risks and migrated in advance to a rapidly scalable load-balanced system of dedicated virtual servers on a high-availability cluster. This rearrangement was not an easy one since the webcast website features many dynamic elements. Subtitles, our meta-refresh, or meta-reload system, with which we dynamically update the webcast websites depending upon current events, then had to be reliably-and within fractions of a second-distributed to all web servers from the back-end server. Usually in the case of press conferences-due to their unpredictable start times-live control of the webcast sites was necessary in almost real time. This meant that there could be no delays within the cluster as a result of the distribution.

"Since our back end was separated from the load balancing system for security and performance considerations," he says, "and while the live operation of all time-critical actions still had to be guaranteed, realising this system was extremely complex.

"Overall, the first day of the conference already demonstrated how worthwhile the extra effort had been. The rapidly scalable system enabled us to accommodate every conceivable viewer peak within just a few minutes, without having to operate a massive server farm for the entire period."
Akamai and meta-fusion have worked with in-video hosting for years. The high number of hits presented no problem for the high-performance video server network. However, more important than the performance is the network's global server density. On the one hand, these allow reliable delivery of the video in all countries of the world (hits to the COP 15 [15th session of the Conference of the Parties] webcast came from 210 different countries), and on the other, the network allows input of the stream from the most exotic countries. This is an important criterion, considering the various conference locations in recent years.

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