Streaming Forum Keynote Preview: Norway's Multiscreen Olympics

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Every four years, almost everything in Norway grinds to a halt for the winter Olympics. In the birthplace of modern skiing,  not to mention a country where sports like the biathlon and curling are huge, the entire country turns its attention to the exploits of its Olympic athletes. So when it comes to delivering those events live, whether over broadcast or the internet, let's just say that failure is not an option.

With this year's Sochi Olympics, for the first time a Norwegian commercial broadcaster held the rights to the Olympics. Needless to say, that situation generated more than a little controversy in a country where the ability to view the Olympics is practically seen as a birthright. The broadcaster, TV 2, and its OTT service TV 2 Sumo, faced challenges in both the technical realm and in the realm of public opinion, but was able to deliver the Sochi Olympics without a hitch. Kristian Bruarøy, the head of TV 2 Sumo, will share the experience when he presents the keynote on the second day of the 2014 Streaming Forum in London.

TV 2 takes its responsibility to the Norwegian people very seriously, Bruarøy says. The broadcaster is Norway's largest commercial broadcaster, owned by Danish Egmont, a commercial foundation that invests all revenue back into media as well as in charity work to help disadvantaged children and youth. Also, even though it isn't owned by the state, TV 2 is considered a public service broadcaster and has obligations to produce local news and Norwegian programming. Because it doesn't own a production studio and does not own a large part of the distribution chain, it faces the challenge of being the one in the middle, he adds.

"A reason to be focused on OTT is the opportunity to secure revenue and distribution of your content," Bruarøy. "We have done so since 2002.”

Due to changes in the executive level, Bruarøy's responsibility for TV 2 Sumo was handed to him less than three months prior to the Olympics.  "A good foundation was established, and our goal was making it accessible to as many people as possible," he says.

TV 2 decided that rather than using the Olympics as a way to generate a small piece of quick, one-time revenue, it would offer a one-month free trial while the Olympics were on. "One of my pieces of advice in the industry is to not use large events to milk revenue directly, but to promote yourself," Bruarøy says. "We used the Olympics as a huge window to illustrate OTT and how it can be a true alternative for distribution." While TV 2 hasn't released numbers,Bruarøy says "we have seen really good pickup, people stayed after the Olympics."

Prior to the Olympics, TV 2 Sumo was already delivering that country’s Premiere League football, but was reeling from a few high-profile failures that cast doubt in its ability to successfully bring the 2014 Winter Olympics to viewers on multiple screens. In one instance, streaming to iPads failed, and in another, streaming to one of the country's ISPs went down—failures that were front-page news in several online news outlets.

"I was not very happy to be thrown into this, of course, but this is when you have to make decisions based not only on science but on a gut feeling you're doing something right," Bruarøy says. "We said to management, 'We know things seem bad at the moment, but trust us, we will get together with the right partners, such as Vimond, and the right technical people inside TV 2'.

"We had to be sure we could handle the traffic," Bruarøy says. "We had to make sure that 300,000 unique users could log in by subscription and start a video at the same time, all within three minutes. With live sports, you can fail on so many aspects of the delivery. We had to change a lot of our backend, and also build for the future. For many years, we'd done internal hosting, and for the Olympics we also established a cloud setup as a backup if something happens. But when we started all the installs and migrations, we ran into all sorts of unexpected issues. The last couple of weeks before the Olympics people were working day and night, because you can't take the service down when people are watching other content."

The first real test came on the first Monday of the Olympics, when the biathlon event started at 4 p.m. local time—a time when people typically don't have access to televisions, and so TV 2 Sumo knew mobile usage would be high,climbing up to a total of 50 000 unique viewers.

"The event became maybe Sochi’s most iconic, when 40-year-old Ole Einar Bjoerndalen won his seventh Olympic Gold Medal," Bruarøy says. "When he won his first, in Nagano 1998, almost nobody had even heard about streaming. Now we were watching him winning through our mobile phones."

The day after, an even more popular event took place during office time, the cross-country sprint. TV 2 Sumo used Conviva to monitor the streams for the entire four-hour event (and for all of its Olympic delivery). "Just sitting watching how many people came in was a thrill," Bruarøy says, adding that 50,000 viewers were watching simultaneously at the beginning of the event. "When we reached the semi finals, numbers was more than doubled, and people stayed there for two hours, in day time. Quite a large number for a small country,"  he says, though again TV 2 hasn't released official figures.

Streaming Forum will be held at the Park Plaza Victoria in London on 24-25 June. Bruarøy will discuss the Olympics and give insight into TV 2 Sumo's approach to OTT during the keynote "Norway's Multiscreen Olympics" at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 June.

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