BBC torchcam becomes cult viewing worldwide
It's been pleasing - if not a surprise - to see the levels of interest in the Torch Relay as it started its journey round the UK. This week we'll have two guest blogs about how it's being captured for broadcast and online; and here's the first of them, from the 2012 online head Mark Coyle.
There's always a nerve-wracking moment in event planning when the big day arrives. You hold your breath, cross your fingers and hope that everything falls into the right place at the right time.
Our moment came shortly after 7am on Saturday. Members of my team, who run the BBC's online torch relay pages, waited anxiously for Ben Ainslie to set off from the signpost at Land's End.
This was the culmination of many brainstorms and briefings followed by design and development.
At the centre of our work was "Torchcam", the name we've given our continuous stream of pictures. We wanted to create a persona around it, as if it were a roving, mechanical member of our team with a privileged vantage point in the convoy.
This was crunch time. Would it work? How good would the picture be? Would people even want to watch a stream that switched between torchbearers and blurry fields rushing past?
We had our answers pretty quickly:
2. Much better than expected
3. You bet
The technology we're using to deliver a constant video feed to our web pages is working over the 3G network, which is more miss than hit in many parts of the UK.
Innovation was uppermost in the minds of the engineers, technicians, web developers and editorial minds who considered a range of options for how to cover the torch relay.
Satellite uplinks for 70 days would have been prohibitively expensive. In the end, we went for a solution which gives us affordable, continuous coverage even though we knew we'd lose the pictures at times.
It's frustrating when they do drop out, but now that we're seeing our colleague Torchcam in action, we're even more convinced that having eminently watchable pictures for 75/80% of the time is better than infrequent live inserts and some recorded highlights every day.
The quality of the pictures has exceeded the expectations we had after seeing the results of a day-long rehearsal in Leicestershire in April. More than that, the strength of the editorial story unfolding in front of us has been remarkable.
Sun-kissed crowds are lining the route, sometimes five-deep and more, to cheer on their relatives, friends and complete strangers during their 300 metres of fame.
Strong, human stories abound. Top of my list so far is Andy Seaward, 67, who has Parkinson's Disease and was helped from his wheelchair to walk the last few yards of his Olympic moment.
We knew the torch would be the spark that would light many people's interest in the Olympics but perhaps not quite this much, this soon.
Twitter has been full of messages containing our hashtage #bbctorchcam, supporting the torchbearers and shouting out expressions of pride in communities along the route.
Some have told us that Torchcam has become cult viewing, even addictive.
Yes, there have been lots of angry messages when the stream fails. It's ironic that the chance of losing the pictures rises when the streets are busier - the very points at which there's more interest and possibly a big name such as Will.i.am running.
More people = more mobile phones = more demand on the 3G network = higher chance of us losing the signal.
We've been asked to make torchbearers' names and stories available. We looked at creating a data feed from the organisers, Locog, but had to discount the idea when we discovered it wouldn't be "dynamic", by which I mean that if a runner dropped out, the change wouldn't feed through automatically to our pages.
The best option was simply to link to Locog's own site, where you can see the runners' names and stories and we've done this from the lower right hand side of each page. Keep an eye on our live text updates beside the video, where we do mention some runners' names and their backgrounds.
The number of people reading our online torch relay pages in the months leading up to Saturday told us there was a sizeable audience for our coverage and this has been borne out by performance figures for the week up to Sunday.
Our 70 torch relay pages had a total of 2.3m hits, the highest day being Saturday with 921,920. There were 607,780 unique browsers (the nearest measurement we have to individual people) over the week.
We have some changes in store for the torch relay video. We hope to introduce some of the functionality you'll see as part of our digital Olympics experience, through which you'll watch the sporting action from the Games.
We'll let you know as soon as we can when it will be introduced.
Meanwhile, we have 65 days ahead of us and no doubt some testing yet exhilarating times to come.
Here's hoping our colleague, Torchcam, keeps turning up for work.