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The road from London to Rio - delivering the Rio Olympics to a digital audience

Chris Condron

Digital Product Director, BBC Design & Engineering

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The Summer Olympics are over for another four years: a monumental sporting success for Team GB and the biggest event the BBC has ever delivered digitally to audiences.

The 102m unique browsers following our coverage from around the world makes it bigger than London 2012 –in fact more than double. And that might surprise a lot of people, what with the time difference this year, and the once in a lifetime British home games in 2012. To have had a more interested, engaged and insatiable audience than we had back then is remarkable.


At the time London 2012 felt like a one-off, both on the track and behind the scenes here at the BBC. It was hugely ambitious and the first time we’d covered such a large number of events live at the same time. But it was clear how much people valued the service and we knew immediately this was how all major BBC events, not just Sport but elections, Glastonbury, the Proms, everything, would need to be covered in future.

Within a couple of weeks audiences were not only used to the range of coverage available to them online, but they’d embraced it and were hungry for more. It was a little like patting a high jumper on the back after a world record clearance and saying, “Well done. Now go away and do it as easily and as regularly as a hurdler” – it was a challenge we couldn’t wait to take on.

So, our team in Salford set about designing and engineering a new way to deliver national events to all audiences. We soon found out what people loved and couldn’t live without. The live video streams, naturally, ranked high on the list but the digital service people wanted much more than that from the BBC.

They wanted to follow breaking news stories as and when they could, to be notified when they were happening, to follow specific parts of an event, to read updates and stories for build-up and analysis, to listen in when it suited them, and to plan and personalise their experience. They wanted these things faster. They wanted them all in one place. And they wanted them on every device.

But above all, they wanted this kind of experience for more of the events they cared about. Not just Sport. And with an audience as large and diverse as we have, this went way beyond the marquee multi-event tournaments and festivals like Wimbledon and Glastonbury.

We also needed to move the technology on from London 2012 to something all BBC teams could adopt and adapt as they needed. It had to be easy for multiple teams to use, to be cost-effective and reliable, and it also had to give people a consistent and familiar experience for live events. We set about building a first version of a live platform for the BBC, something that has evolved quite a bit since but still remains focussed on those key elements people wanted.

News is increasingly live online and was a natural first place to roll out our new live service beyond Sport. Major events like elections and breaking news involve many similar core features like live video, text and audio, but need to be tailored by the experts to best report the story. The initial results were very encouraging. And BBC News’ digital coverage of the EU referendum was able to reach 17.6m global unique browsers across the week of the vote.

Music events were next – like Glastonbury where we brought multiple live streams back into the mix and gave people a choice of acts from different stages for the first time. This year over half a million unique browsers followed the BBC’s live digital coverage of the festival.

And we continued to innovate our Sport service, introducing new features like in-play video highlights, which have already become a key part of how people follow certain sports. We also added new personalised and interactive features, like match alerts and a team selector for Euro 2016. And for Rio, we added an experimental live 360 video app for Rio, drawing over 1m views across all platforms with hundreds of pieces of feedback to help us learn from it.

People come to the BBC for the big national moments and this year they’ve consumed more live content from us than ever before. We had the Scottish and European referendums, Glastonbury, Euro 2016, Wimbledon and now the Olympics to name but a few – all using the latest version of our live digital service. Well over 60m unique browsers followed these events live on the BBC. And that’s purely live audiences, before you factor in the world-class non-live coverage, programmes, analysis and reporting.

It’s been a long road from London to Rio but the journey is far from over. We know audiences want more of this kind of service from us. And we know that live online content, whether it’s user-generated or broadcast quality, is increasingly important to people. That’s why one of our biggest priorities is to continue improving how we do this, taking audiences closer to the action, making it more social, connected and more participatory than ever before.

Chris Condron, Digital Product Director, BBC Design & Engineering

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