Marina Kalkanis, Head of Core Services (Programmes On Demand) at the BBC, on the many records broken by the broadcaster’s online coverage of the London 2012 Olympics, and the valuable legacy that has been created by the technology investments this coverage required.
First congratulations on the success of the Olympics coverage! What valuable lessons did it provide in terms of VOD delivery?
For the UK audience the 2012 Olympics online offering changed the way our audience engage with digital media. We shattered previous records for consumption across desktops, mobiles, tablets and TVs. We found that TV and mobile usage grew by orders of magnitude and we’ve seen sustained growth afterwards.
With 24 live streams and 2500 hours of VOD available across all these devices, our challenge was to ensure that audiences could find the events they wanted to watch. With the Olympics we introduced the Interactive Video Player (IVP) with the chapter markings and event switching.
The IVP was quickly embraced and we found the chapter marks received an average 1.5 million clicks per day. The chapter marker for Bolt’s 100m Final received 13,000 clicks alone. Making all the content available online also proved popular with the audience with every event attracting at least 100,000 viewers.
What was your vision for creating a dual screen Olympics?
The vision for the Olympics went beyond dual screen to our full four screen strategy. We offered the richest and most complex experience on the PC where we expected to gain our biggest audience.
For online delivery our biggest moments come during the middle of the day when our audience is mostly in front of their PCs. We also got great feedback from the audience consuming the live coverage on the go. What was particularly rewarding were the tweets from people watching on their phones from the Games venues.
The tablet experience tended to peak later in the evenings as people relaxed with these devices. And finally our Red Button reach was fantastic with 70% of our audience pressing red during the coverage. What worked really well on the multiple screens is that everything was available everywhere.
How can a broadcaster craft an interactive UI that engages as many viewer demographics as possible?
The interactive UI for the Olympics was built to appeal to sport fanatics as well as more casual olympic fans. By bringing all of the coverage into a simple consistent set of dynamically generated pages it was possible to cater to a viewer who just wants to follow the highlights as well as a viewer who wants to deep dive into a single discipline and immerse themselves in the stats and competitors.
The audience loved it, they discovered sports they hadn’t watched before. The Semantic Publishing platform that we built collected realtime stats from Locog and exposed an API which was then used both for chapter points and extras within the video player as well as feed the apps and web pages.
Where next for the BBC iPlayer?
The technology investment that the BBC made to deliver the online Olympics experience has created a valuable legacy. We now have the transcoding and packaging infrastructure, the workflows, the tools, the metadata and player technologies that we can reuse in TV and Radio iPlayer, in News and Sport and for live events.
One of the challenges in delivering the Olympics was to lift the playback experiences across all devices, web and app, to a consistently high standard. We also demonstrated to the audience how good playback on all these devices can be. And they loved it.
Now we can now build on that, both improving the features that are specific to a device and bring the device experiences together. So the audience easily shifts across device but stays with our content.