Streaming Forum 14: TV 2 Sumo Rises for Olympic Success

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“We are born with skis on our feet,” said Streaming Forum’s second day keynote speaker Kristian Bruarøy, head of Norway’s TV 2 Sumo. It’s painful for the mothers, he conceded, but it helps explain his country’s devotion to the skiing events in the Olympics.

So when his company got the rights to broadcast the Olympics for the first time, it came with great expectations. TV 2 Sumo ramped up in preparation, but also caused itself some highly public problems.

Because of the time difference between Sochi and Norway, the games would play during the daytime, making streaming especially important. While Norway only has a population of 5 million, demand was sure to be high.

Commercial broadcaster TV 2 has a long history with streaming. In 1992, it began streaming the evening news for Norwegians living abroad. In 2002, it introduced subscription video-on-demand. The broadcaster values experimentation. Before the Games, it made the bold move of offering one month of free streaming service. Rather than trying to sell extra subscriptions, it decided the marketing value of getting viewers to try the online service was more important.

TV 2 Sumo did extensive planning for the Sochi Olympics. It would offer 1,400 hours of live coverage and 8 simultaneous feeds, as well as second-screen elements such as a Twitter feed, live chats, live scores, an interactive timeline, play-by-play coverage, and live polls. It decided not to let viewers stream multiple video feeds at one time, since that might create too heavy a load. It would also stream to all devices, creating what Bruarøy called the most accessible Olympics ever.

Preparation included revamping the broadcaster’s apps, doubling server capacity, giving the system a 10GB/sec upgrade, creating a cloud backup, and adding a kill switch to override issues. It also added 6 HD live coders and 40 multi-format channels, updated the origin servers, optimized the CDN, and trimmed the bitrates available (eliminating the highest one).

“We really prepared for the worst that could happen,” Bruarøy said.

But the worst happened, anyway. System disasters plagued the broadcaster in the months before the Olympics, when streams for several high-profile football matches failed. The press wrote about the problems, and social media comments were merciless.

“When you have a problem, they very often don’t come alone,” Bruarøy noted.

The failures didn’t come from a single sore spot, but from many created by the massive upgrade process. In one case, a single half-meter long cable was the issue. While the failures were a humiliation for the broadcaster, TV 2 Sumo managed to overcome them and present the Olympics without an issue.

“We became heroes immediately,” Bruarøy said, displaying dozens of Twitter and Instragram pictures that showed Norwegians enjoying the Olympic streaming at work, in class, and even when stuck in traffic.

At the end of the Games, TV 2 Sumo had served 41.6 million video starts, and 8.1 million hours of video. The average bitrate was 2.2Mbps. The online service enjoyed a subscriber boost that continued after the Olympics. It kept interest up by offering exclusive series for binge-viewing.

In two years, it will take the Olympic lessons it learned to Rio, although, as Bruarøy admitted, the Summer Games are simply not as popular in Norway.

Watch the full keynote address:

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