Olympics, Red Button, and Tablets: BBC Future Media at Streaming Media Europe

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Jane Weedon, director of business development for BBC Future Media, spoke today at Streaming Media Europe 2012 in London. Weedon is responsible for distribution of the BBC's ten online products including iPlayer, News and Sport.

"2012 has seen the most amazing summer of sport," said Weedon. "As the host nation, we wanted to make sure we provided the most comprehensive broadcast service possible."

"The Olympics are a catalyst for broadcast innovation," Weedon continued. "The Games have always been seen as a way to try out new technology, and each successive Olympics is expected to use the previous Games' technology as the baseline standard."

Weedon started out by pointing out how far technology has come in the past four years.

"For us, in the online world, so much had changed between Beijing and London," said Weedon, referring to the 2008 summer games that were held in China. "For instance, with Beijing there were no tablets to speak of."

Weedon said there were three goals for the online portion of the BBC's Olympic broadcast coverage.

"We wanted audiences to feel in control," said Weedon. "This meant they could watch whatever they wanted at any time. In addition, we wanted to provide access to all the content across all four screens. Finally we wanted to set a standard for online delivery for future Olympic Games."

BBC Online's Olympics by the Numbers

There were 24 high-definition live streams of content, amounting to 2500 live-coverage hours, made available across all four screens: computers, smartphones, tablets, and televisions. The latter's on-demand content was made via the Red Button option.

Weedon showed how online features were highlighted before the Games began, via a one-minute educational infomercial that displayed each viewing option:  live viewing, catch-up services for previous events, and alerts for upcoming events.

"Not only were the Olympic Games going on, but we also had UEFA Euro2012, Wimbledon and other events going on prior to the Olympics," said Weedon. "This meant we needed to start our preparations early, meaning that we could iron out any performance issues before the Games."

BBC Online reached over 65 percent of the adult UK population, with staggering global numbers as well.

"57 million browser requests were made to bbc.co.uk," said Weedon, "with 12 million video views for mobile devices. We had 1.9 million downloads of the Olympic smartphone app."

The total number of video requests was 111 million—more than double any previous events—across all devices.

"The equivalent amount of content consumed just in the London Olympic Games," said Weedon, "would fill 700,000 DVDs. In all it was more than 2.8 petabytes of data consumption."

Trends were fairly obvious: PC usage maxed out at lunchtime, mobile peaked around 8pm, and tablets peaked about an hour later.

"Our iPlayer statistics for the Olympics were similar to our general findings," said Weedon. "Stats show viewers watching content last thing at night before going to bed, so that they wouldn't miss a moment of sports, even if they'd already consumed hours of content that day on television, their computer, or smartphone."

Weedon said tablet consumption was interesting, with tablets being used both as a second screen—to catch up on previous events while watching live on television—as well as just prior to bedtime as the primary screen.

"34 per cent of content requests to the BBC Sport website were from mobile devices," said Weedon, noting that mobile viewing peaked at almost 40 per cent on the weekend.

Weedon referred to the Red Button service and its twenty-four streams of live Olympic content, so she noted that the recent announcement of the reduction of streams from five streams to one is not a reduction in service but a chance to move to new technology.

"We are doing this because these services rely entirely on linear broadcast technologies," an October 13 BBC Internet blog entry notes, "which are not cost-effective for an interactive service like the red button."

"This change in no way signals the demise of BBC Red Button," the blog entry continued. "The BBC is committed to maintaining a vibrant and popular Red Button service. 20 million people a month press red on the BBC and our ambition is to develop the service and increase the size of our audience."

Weedon says "Connected Red Button" that relies on newer technologies, delivered over IP, will be launched before year's end and will contain multiple video streams. More information can be found on the BBC Internet blog, including a post by Tom Williams, development editor for red button and dual screen in BBC Vision.

Scroll down to view a video of the keynote address:

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