Winter Olympics; a new approach to the BBC's live event coverage

Tuesday 11 February 2014, 12:00

Johnathan Ishmael Johnathan Ishmael Technical Development Lead

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Hello, I'm Johnathan Ishmael, a Technical Development Lead within BBC Sport in Salford. Over the past few months our team has been working on a project to deliver digital live event coverage across the BBC in a new way.

The aim was to build a platform for live events that can be easily tailored to suit a wide range of events, which we can continually iterate and improve over time to provide the best-possible experience across four screens - PC, tablet, mobile and connected TV. The underlying technology also had to be scalable across the BBC, giving us the capability to bring even more live events to audiences digitally.

You may have already seen this project in action during our Beta period from late November to the end of January through our new format Sportsday Live pages. We've been listening to your feedback during the Beta and improving the experience, as well as releasing new features.

I am pleased to announce that last week we took the product out of Beta for BBC Sport’s coverage of the Winter Olympics on 7 February.

Winters.jpg Sochi 2014 on four screens

The following day turned out to be a big test for the new platform as our live Sochi, football and RBS Six Nations coverage helped drive a number of digital BBC Sport records on Saturday 8 February, including:

• 10.1m global unique users – the highest number outside of the London 2012 Olympic Games

• 7.3m UK browsers – again, the highest outside of London 2012

• 3.4m unique UK mobile browsers - highest ever, including London 2012

• 1.5m unique UK browsers on tablet - on a par with the previous all-time high on New Year's Day 2014

• Highest reach on Connected TV since the London 2012 Olympics with a 200% week on week increase

We’re delighted so many people choose to use BBC Sport's products during major sports events and we hope they enjoy doing so.

To give you an insight into our aims for this project, when we started out our aspirations were to create a live experience that could:

• Showcase a wide variety of content from around the BBC, including live video and radio, clips, statistics and live text commentary posts

• Deliver this breadth and depth of content to audiences in one place, faster than would have possible using previous technology

• Responsively deliver all web content to all devices regardless of screen size in a consistent user experience from mobile, tablet to desktop

• Use the same architecture to deliver content to connected TV and mobile applications

• Provide a re-usable and scalable platform that can be used to deliver live events across the BBC

The Winter Olympics is the first major event to use our new live platform. Here are some details about the technology behind the responsive website and some of the benefits it brings to audiences.

How is it different?

Unlike traditional web pages which are typically assembled by code (e.g. PHP) on a server, the new live pages are partially assembled by code on your device using JavaScript. Your device receives a single stream of data updates (such as results and text commentary updates) and uses this information to draw the page.

As we don't send presentation information to your device we can update the page more frequently. Content such as results and live text commentary are delivered twice as fast as the old site, whilst keeping your data bills low. This allows us to provide a more timely second-screen experience as we can publish content into the page at the relevant point in the broadcast.

One further benefit of this approach is that we can select and interchange the items the user sees on the page; for example, a results table, a video or festival set list. This provides a powerful mechanism when covering live events as we can adapt the page at a moment's notice to show the most relevant content, all without the user having to refresh.

How does it work?

Using our in-house content management system a journalist builds a live page, giving it a title, image and duration. The journalist can also associate this page with an event or competition, as well as media such as television or radio shows. When loaded on a device the page then fetches the relevant data, for example video and scores. The page then continues to monitor for updates, so that any updates from the journalist appear straightaway.

For the technology we chose AngularJS,  a JavaScript framework. The decision was made after a prototyping phase using different Javascript MVC frameworks including Backbone  and Ember.  AngularJS works by creating custom tags within the HTML, which act as hooks in which to put the data.

AngularJS has a separation between the business logic code, which converts the data for the view, and the presentation code. Two way data bindings mean we update our data and AngularJS takes care of updating the HTML to match. Unlike some of the other JavaScript frameworks it requires no direct DOM manipulation. More information on AngularJS including code example and presentations can be found on the AngularJS website.

To the future….

Over the coming months the team is working to create new features and optimise important aspects of the site, such as performance. The live platform has been developed as a framework that can be reused within the BBC, across even more live events and BBC products. We've got some amazing live events for Sport in 2014, including the World Cup, Wimbledon and the Commonwealth Games, and the BBC will be working to offer the same experience for a greater range of news, cultural and music events in the future.

I hope you enjoy our digital live coverage using the new live page,and I am always keen to hear what you think, so please do leave a comment.

Johnathan Ishmael is Technical Development Lead, BBC Future Media Sport. 

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Not impressed actually,

    Where are

    1. Duplicated Red Button Feeds on the Website
    2. Complete replication of the Connected TV feeds
    3. FULL Catchup of all coverage including the Red Button and Connected TV offerings
    4. HD Streams of EVERYTHING including Catchup, Connected TV and individual event snippets.

    The 2012 Olympic and Wimbledon interfaces of the past did this, so where's the progress with this offering?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I agree with everything KernowChris said. Online coverage is very basic and disappointing compared to London 2012. Such a shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Equally unimpressed. Catchup programmes are on iplayer and are very limited - I think we have 13 x 30 min edited highlights so far, and they are not even in HD. I think you promised 300 hours of catchup? You're not even close.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Virgin Media TiVo viewer. Sadly, the live coverage on the TiVo's IP channels is jittery to the point of being annoying. I don't think it's in HD, either. So I'm sticking with 991/2, even though they're poor quality. At least they don't judder. BBC2 HD is great, but obviously limited as it can only show one sport at a time. 991/2 should really be in HD. Abandon the extra digital feeds if you can't get it right as it's a waste of money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    What is the bbc playing at ?
    Just watched the Swede's winning the xc skiing in a dramatic finish, just to have the bbc cut to the ice hockey as the winner crossed the line and celebrations about to start.
    it was so annoying. Even 'red button' wss also showing ice hockey.
    what a dismal piece of coverage.
    And don't get me started on the stupid 'Blooper' clip shown by Clare Balding every evening ?
    These athletes have worked so hard to get to compete in what might be their only chance of a witer olympics, to then be ridiculed by the bbc, with the added silly noises
    'You've been framed' style.. pathetic.
    c'mon bbc, get it together...

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    And again...
    canada and china in the curling..
    evens on tenth end, went to extra end.
    BBC cut to bobsleigh half way through...??
    Don't know who won.....
    if BBC running the footage of 2014 commonwealth, I will be watching from another country...

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I complained on the other blog about the Olympics coverage asking why can't windows phones watch any of the live coverage or even view any of the video as surely there are more windows phones than connects tv's, obviously there are more android and apple devices out there than windows phones but there must be more windows phones than connected tv's. Is this due to the BBC not using HTML5 yet or is it because of the IOC dictating things?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Hello Everyone,

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Every Winter Olympics live video is in HD on the BBC Sport website and on Connected TVs (if supported by your device).

    The BBC Sport website and Connected TVs are also showing every sport uninterrupted if you would like to watch something different to the TV channels & Red Button.

    Hundreds of hours of catch-up is now available, most in HD. A full list is available at

    Winter Olympics catch-up is available on Windows Phone 8 using the iPlayer app.

    Please do keep the feedback coming.

    Johnathan Ishmael

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    HD? On my Infinity connection, on the web, running at 50Mbps the video only trains up to 2.096 kbps ... which cannot deliver HD quality, the detail is missing. The codec needs examining. Previous Web content has run at 3.500 kbps.

    Catchup ... Why is this not within the Olympics pages, and made available within the six month IOC window?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I am looking at the Winter Olympics webpages right now. On the front page it clearly says there is catchup (Big yellow banners) on Freestyle women's cross and Curling. Yet when you click on both of those, you just go to a best that have some high level event information and old videos (mostly guides to the sports, and offensively videos of the mens ski cross not the womens). In anyone's book that's a shambles, and it's not just today, the digital pages have not been up to scratch when it comes to catchup throughout the games.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    @Johnathan Ishmael - It is very misleading of you to say the live or catchip video is in HD, when as @KernowChris states the bitrates are too low to be reasonably called HD. What you're broadcasting is something slightly better than SD quality. This is akin to the days when BBC HD channel broadcast at low bitates and low resolution (ie not 1080i), though it's not even up to that standard.

    Whilst I understand the focus on connected TVs, that is the future, the reality is most people (I bet its over 95% of the population) are years away from having connected TVs. In the meantime you've scaled back the red button services - which most people do have access to - so much that its virtually useless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Quote: "Winter Olympics catch-up is available on Windows Phone 8 using the iPlayer app."

    So in other words the BBC don't care about windows phones because we are stuck with watching the catchup service via the iPlayer whereas if you have a connected tv, android or IOS you get live streams in HD.

    Presumably it will it be the same for the commonwealth games as well despite there being more an more people using them.


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