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Delivering the digital Olympics: 24 live streams via the red button

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Phil Fearnley Phil Fearnley | 10:11 UK time, Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Black and white photo of office with cabinets of 1950s electronics

Vision switching centre in Broadcasting House, during the 1952 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Phil Fearnley hopes that the Olympics will do for digital and connected TV what the coronation did for analogue TV.

In August last year, Roger Mosey, the BBC’s Director for 2012, and I set out our editorial and digital ambitions for the BBC’s coverage of the Games at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International TV Festival. We have come a long way since then, and over the past year, my team has been bringing those digital ambitions to life.

One of the key elements of that strategy is to bring our audiences over 2,500 hours of live sport online via 24 High Definition streams - every sport, from every venue on every day – across four screens: PC, mobile, tablet and connected TV.

Today, we have announced plans which allow cable and satellite providers to deliver the same 24 streams that will be available on the BBC Sport website, via the BBC Red Button service and corresponding EPG channels. Roger Mosey has blogged about this, and I wanted to outline how this will work technically in a little more detail.

Using these brand new red button services and via the standard EPG platform listings, viewers will be able to switch seamlessly between 24 SD or HD channels. Pressing red on any BBC TV channel will enable audiences to find and watch the events they like, when they like, through simple five button navigation (up, down, left, right, OK). The channels on each red button service will only show the Olympics sports as they are taking place, as well as highlighting what is coming up later.

We want our audiences to intrinsically feel that they are part of a family of BBC digital Olympics products, no matter what platform they are on – PC, mobile, tablet or TV. The design of these new red button services reflects that, and adapts around the capabilities of the various platforms and their set top boxes.

The red button services will be built by the platform operators themselves in line with BBC product, technical and UX designs, to ensure that consistency, standardisation and ease of use.

Our Digital Olympic services for TV extend beyond the satellite and cable platform plans we have announced today, and we intend to go into more detail on this in the coming weeks. While it is significantly more complex to design and deliver standard services for connected TV, we are working hard to make sure our audiences have as much choice and access as possible on all platforms, alongside our core digital offer on the BBC Sport website.

Our vision for BBC Online is as a single service, made up of ten products (including News, Sport, Weather, iPlayer) across four screens (PC, mobile, tablet and connected TV) - our 1-10-4 strategy.

Our announcement today is clearly focussed on the TV platform. However, over time the lines are starting to blur between IP and broadcast channels, and between platform boundaries. Today's announcement ensures that 24 channels are available on all BBC online platforms in the UK, but also on traditional TV platforms, and as red button services.

We have already started to deliver aspects of the digital Olympics. Our portal for the games showcases the best video, news, and content from the BBC and forms the main digital gateway into the BBC's 2012 and Olympic coverage.

The Olympic pages on the newly re-launched BBC Sports site are already proving extremely popular as the number of Olympic sport test events happen. We are also hugely excited by what we are testing in our "labs" at the moment and look forward to sharing more of this with you very soon.

Broadcast television’s first big moment was the coronation in 1953, which brought the nation together around the TV screen for the first time. Our aspiration is that 2012 will do for digital and connected televisions what the coronation did for TV. I hope and believe when the dust has settled on the Olympic Games you will agree with me.

Phil Fearnley is the General Manager, News and Knowlege, BBC Future Media


  • Comment number 1.

    Not to be a wet blanket, but aren't the number of streams on satellite going down after the Olympics?

  • Comment number 2.

    I just hope that the desing of the pages for the streaming services is better then the recent changes to the BBC News and BBC Sport pages, they are now a complete mess with simple things like football scores very hard to find.

  • Comment number 3.

    Does this mean the BBC is going to rent six extra transponders on Astra for the duration of the games?

    If you're going to do this, can we have at least one full time 3d channel?

  • Comment number 4.

    Will this include the Virgin TiVo service? I recently got a TiVo box and was very disappointed to discover that there is NO Red Button service on it at all, even though there had been on the V+. I'm going to be beyond disappointed if I can't watch the full Olympic coverage on it.

  • Comment number 5.

    And for those of us on Freeview, this Games has less coverage (4 channels, not all full time) than at the last Games.

    How long is content going to remain on the iPlayer? Will it be recordable?

  • Comment number 6.

    Roline, it says the channels will also be available through the standard EPG. Jordan D, couldn't agree more but Freeview is just not set up to handle this. Going to be relying on the Internet a lot this summer.

  • Comment number 7.

    @Phil Fearnley

    Will enough room be kept after the Olympics for BBC1,2,3/CBBC,4/CBeebies,News 24 to each have a HD channel and an HD interactive stream for sports or 3D?

    ITV now has all 4 main channels in HD and Channel 4 aims to bring More 4 and Film 4 alongside Channel 4 and E4 in HD.

    If other PSB broadcasters can do this shouldn't the BBC do this taking up the chance it has now?

    If others feel the same please ask the same question so the BBC will answer back as now is the best chance of the BBC being able to go all HD using some of these channels after the Olympics finish.

  • Comment number 8.

    BBC1 and BBC2 England, Scotland, Wales and NI, BBC3/CBBC, BBC4/CBeebies, News 24 and an interactive channel for sports or 3D would only need 12 streams.

    The BBC currently has only 2 but if it can run 24 then it could run 12 although this would mean BBC1 regions would have to wait until it becomes cheaper to offer the BBC1 regions.

  • Comment number 9.

    At last some good news from the BBC for Olympic fans. 24 HD channels is good news but I suspect they will be low definition at low bitrates. Its a pitty that not more of the 3D coverage is being made available. It also demostrates how much better satellite is over terestrial.

    The last Olympic coverage suffered from too much chat and not enough action. Lets hope the BBC will reduce the chat this time.

  • Comment number 10.

    Just an impassioned plea: The BBC HD channel was once the gold standard for not over-compressed HD picture quality and good 5.1 DD sound productions. This was after a long test period where the optimal compression rates and the value of 5.1 sound was determined. Then BBD got new video compression capability and significantly reduced the video bandwidth used. I and some others complained that BBC HD was no longer the gold standard. After much exchange I had to accept that my needs for HD were in the minority, a minority that the BBC could not pamper. So I had to accept the lower HD picture quality.

    Please BBC do not make things worse by compromising PQ to get more from the available bandwidth (transmission and BBC digital infrastructure)

    Please ask Andy Questead for further information if he is still with the BBC and allowed to publicly comment.

  • Comment number 11.

    Is this on freesat, or sky only?

  • Comment number 12.

    I know it's not very long - but could you ensure it's all visible to Connected TVs and the like?

  • Comment number 13.

    Your 4-screen strategy doesn't seem to account for broadcast TV, which is what this post starts off about. So shouldn't it be a 5-screen strategy?

    And BBC Red Button isn't BBC Online, so you're talking about two services not one. So really you have a 2-10-5 strategy, not a 1-10-4 strategy, yes?

    And what about connected radio. Maybe make it a 3-10-6 strategy just in case.

  • Comment number 14.

    A simple question.

    Will I be able to watch any Olympic event live on my TV, I have freesat, via the red button and/or the BBC Website?

    Or, to guarantee that all events will be available to be watched live, I will need a mixture of Freesat, Freeview and SKY?


  • Comment number 15.

    hi - people commenting here may be interested in comments by Roger Mosey on his associated blog post which may answer some of your questions.


  • Comment number 16.

    So I pressed the link to read the 1-10-4 article and was presented with an embedded Slideshare presentation, which my ipad advised me is a "the format is not yet supported". So I decided to watch some short news clips on the BBC Sport website. Once I'd worked out where the scores had been hidden (under a date-arbitrary drop down menu) and found the clip I wanted to see, guess what? Yup. Flash. That would be the format even Adobe have stopped developing for mobile. It's 2012 and if this is the best the BBC can offer online, my hopes for streaming Olympic video is not high. 60 million iPads will be sold this year. Does anyone at the BBC Internet team even own one?

  • Comment number 17.

    @Nick Reynolds

    The comments by Roger Mosey on coverage only seem to cover Freeview and Freesat. Is there any information at all for Virgin Media or Sky subscribers? I should point out that we pay our licence fee too, and so should also be entitled to this coverage.


    I agree. It's high time the BBC Sport (and other BBC web properties) worked out how to stream video in a format available to all platforms. Plenty of other sites do it, why is the BBC lagging behind so badly?

  • Comment number 18.

    Ah, pedantic point here: the Queen's Coronation was 1953, not 1952!

    FYI, we're putting together a rebuild of one of the Marconi OB trucks ('scanner' in BBC speak) used for the Coronation.

    See: www.projectvivat.co.uk

    We really need to update the website, it's coming on quite well now!

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    @Paul (#18):

    Well spotted. That mistake was mine, not Phil's, and I've corrected it. Good luck with Project Vivat.

  • Comment number 21.

    Look like the old Sky box will be going out of the loft, Rather that then Freeview coverage


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