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Olympic Data Services and the Interactive Video Player

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Oliver Bartlett | 11:00 UK time, Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Photo of the BBC's Olympic Data Team

The Olympic Data Services Team at the Broadcast Centre in White City

Hi, I'm Oli Bartlett and for the last 15 months or so I've been the Product Manager for the BBC's Olympic Data services.

My team have built the systems which provide all of the London 2012 data to the BBC Sport Olympic website, mobile applications, IPTV applications and other BBC websites showing Olympics content.

We provide three main functions:

  • The Dynamic Semantic Publishing platform (DSP). This is the framework for creating over 10,000 athlete pages, plus a page per event, discipline, country and venue.
  • A service to receive, process and store data from the Olympic Broadcasters' Data Feed (BDF).
  • A stats service, the Olympic Data API providing all of the sports data: Schedules, starting lineups, results, records, medal tables and video logging data.

DSP has allowed us to dynamically publish a page per athlete as soon as we receive the information from the BDF. This page is linked in to the BBC sport website - it will link to pages on their events, their discipline and their country team. DSP also then allows us to aggregate relevant stories from BBC News and Sport onto each page on the Olympics website. Journalists simply have to tag the story with the people, sports or events it's about, and a link to that story will be pulled onto the relevant pages. Jem Rayfield has written an in-depth piece on DSP if you're interested in finding out more.

The BBC, like other broadcasters around the world, gets all of its Olympics data via a feed delivered over the internet and the majority of its Olympics video from the host broadcaster, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS). The London 2012 Olympics are the first where a combined video and results data feed (the BDF) has been made available. If you'll excuse the abbreviations: The BDF provides Olympic Data Feed (ODF) results and statistics from Locog, plus video data from OBS. In practical terms, this means that not only do we know the live results for every moment of every event, but we also know which video streams were showing the action at that time.

The BBC subscribes to the BDF and we receive it via our data provider Deltatre Media Ltd. The raw BDF is huge and contains a load more data than the BBC needs. Additionally the feed is stateful, so requires a relatively complex receiving system which knows how to apply updates as they arrive. Deltatre transforms the complex and stateful feed into a simpler, stateless feed which provides the BBC with just the data needed to power the online products. For example, a BDF update for a football match may say that Team GB have scored a goal. If you want to display a scoreboard, this information is of little use without knowing the previous state (score) in the match. The updates we get from Deltatre don't require the BBC to hold state for each unit, so the football update would instead give the current score: GBR 1 - ITA 0. This has allowed the BBC to simplify its processing of the data as we are not required to build the complex business logic required to manage stateful updates of statistics across the 10,000 units of competition. Instead, we can focus on getting the data out to the audience as quickly and reliably as possible.

So what does this mean for you?

Well, if you've used the interactive video player you'll probably have seen the Extras button in the bottom right of the player. One of the options here is the athletes panel. This shows you a list of the athletes competing in the event(s) you're watching. Additionally you'll see a picture of the athlete, a link to their page on BBC Sport, and their vital statistics - height, weight, date of birth. If you drill down further you'll see statistics from the event in which they're currently competing. This all works off our Olympic Data API which can serve up the latest results and statistics from any time during any of the 2,500 hours of video during the games. This means that when you rewind a live diving event, or watch a football match from yesterday, the athlete data and match stats stay relevant to what you're watching. Alex talks more about the interactive video player in his blog post.

In addition to the sports data, the Olympic Data API provides chapter markers and the Olympics Live data to the interactive video player. These features are primarily driven by the video logging messages we receive from OBS. Each time something interesting happens on one of the multitude of video feeds, the event will be logged by a team of people in the International Broadcast Centre, in Media City and at venues around the country. Whether it be a record being broken, the start of a new quarter in a basketball match, or a foul in a football match, we will get a notification. We take these notifications and, according to a set of business rules, create chapter points or Olympics Live alerts. As the games get underway we can monitor the frequency and accuracy of the chapter points and live alerts, and can change these rules dynamically if required. Additionally we have ways to manually add chapter points or live alerts for those moments the logging hasn't captured.

That pretty much summarises the Olympic Data services. Dave Rogers, the technical lead on this project, will be writing a follow-up post which will go into more detail around the architectural and testing challenges we've come up against, and the team's development approach.

Until then, enjoy the games!

Oliver Bartlett is Product Manager, Olympic Data, 2012


  • Comment number 1.

    Guys, you are doing a fantastic job bringing all of this together in such a slick way. I can't believe how much information is on tap, and how well linked and easy to access it all is. A truly amazing end result.

  • Comment number 2.

    It's an amazing service but one addition I would like is the ability to favourite a team rather than an individual athlete. I wanted to follow the British women's volleyball team, but selecting single members doesn't track news stories about them,

  • Comment number 3.

    I am amazed, What a scalable product you have created. A Gold Medal Winning Job !! You guys are BBC digital are really doing fantastic job. Thanks for all your hard efforts.


  • Comment number 4.

    Traveling in South Africa right now and really gutted that I cannot view the interactive video player from here :(

  • Comment number 5.

    I am doing a search all over BBC channels etc and i cannot seem to find any televised dressage Grand prix except the kur . Is it televised tomorrow and Friday ?? have i missed it somewhere?? We are really looking at Gold medal this year and as you see by crowds watching eventing equestrian is very popular not the forgotten sport we are portrayed as !!!

  • Comment number 6.

    The interactive video player is really fantastic - especially enjoying the extras button! Glad I returned to the UK to enjoy the coverage - BBC is miles ahead than many of the US broadcasters - Olympic Gold I say!

  • Comment number 7.

    I just wanted to say congratulations on the project which I can only presume you've all dedicated a huge amount of time to. The breadth and depth of information available is astonishing and the interface is incredibly easy to use, especially considering the complexity of the games themselves (number of events, disciplines, athletes etc).

    There is, of course, a tsunami of patriotism washing over the nation at the moment. But (and you'll have to believe me when I say this kind of sentiment doesn't come easily to me) the BBC - and the work you do as a perfect exemplar of it - does make me incredibly proud to be part of country where such a thing can exist.

    You're doing incredible work - diligently and hushed, behind your screens - and I hope you're as proud as yourselves as you deserve to be.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi, having some real problems with live iPlayer streams on Mac. It stops working after a few seconds. I have tried different browsers and found the same problem. The issue does not seem to be a problem in the 'pop-out player'.

    I have tried the same thing using Windows 7 on the same PC and have had no problems.

    This is not just a problem during the Olympics; it has happened previously too.

    We are currently getting a download speed of over 3 Mbps.

  • Comment number 9.

    @Timmywiff I had similar problems on the mac and disabling flash player's hardware acceleration did the trick. If you right click on the video player and open up 'Settings', you should get an option to turn off hardware acceleration.

    Hope this helps :)

  • Comment number 10.

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

  • Comment number 11.

    Congrats on a great job done by all who worked on the interactive player and associated technologies. It's been top notch over the last 2 weeks, enjoy the virtual gold medal on my blog post, well deserved!


  • Comment number 12.

    Terrific coverage of this amazing event from the BBC who seem to have thought of everyting to allow live action to be viewed not only in the UK but also throughout Europe and beyond


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