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From starting gun to smartphone: delivering the Olympics to your device

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Cait O'Riordan Cait O'Riordan | 13:28 UK time, Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Data and Video are collected separately and integrated on devices

In the build-up to the start of London 2012, my colleagues and I talked about it as the first truly digital Olympics.

Now that we're well into the Games, it's thrilling to see that concept become reality, as huge numbers of people watch and interact with events online at the BBC Sport website, on mobile and tablet, and on connected TV. We're breaking digital audiences records every day.

At the end of last week, I talked about the trends in multi-platform viewing behaviour that we're observing as this mass of data flows in. Today I want to explain a bit more about how our interactive coverage gets from the event itself to the device at your fingertips, wherever it is around the country that you are watching.

It's a fascinating process that begins with a camera capturing the action, and finishes with a complex mix of video and data brought together on your device.

The image above illustrates what happens in between, in the background, as audiences watch the final of the Women's Individual Cycling Sprint this afternoon.


The trip from the velodrome to your device is really two parallel processes, which we bring together at the end to deliver our live Olympics streaming experience across multiple platforms. Desktop audiences enjoy the full interactive video offering, but we have ensured all 24 streams of coverage are available to audiences on all four screens (PC, mobile, tablet and connected TV) as well as Red Button.


The BBC's gallery at the International Broadcast Centre in Stratford

When the event starts, cameras filming trackside send their video coverage via the BBC's gallery at the International Broadcast Centre in Stratford to BBC Sport's new production HQ in Salford, where it is prepared for different devices. This encoded video is then sent to our content distribution network (CDN) ready to be delivered to audiences.


At the same time, a whole host of data about the event is being sent by Olympics Broadcasting Services (OBS) to our database. Key event stats, schedule information, and highlights logged by trackside observers all flow into our content store. We also have a team of loggers in Salford who augment that data to make sure all the key moments are marked - concentrating on the Team GB athletes.

Video and data together

At the end of this process, the video and the data come together to deliver the full BBC Olympics live interactive video experience.

Video is loaded into the player, which figures out which event is playing and displays the appropriate data from the database (brought to audiences in the Extras panel at the bottom right of the player when you watch on desktop).

Schedule information enables us to provide info about which events are live now and who is currently competing (surfaced in the "Olympics Live" data panel of the desktop player).

As the cycling progresses, the logged events sent in from OBS enable us to create chapter markers, so audiences watching on PC can instantly rewind back to the key moments they might have missed, or want to watch again.

This is, of course, a simplified version of the journey from starting gun to smartphone: Oliver Barlett and David Rogers have gone into more technical detail about how we use the OBS data and how it flows through the system. Senior Technical Architect Matthew Clark is also preparing a blog post with more technical detail about the end-to-end delivery chain.

It’s important to emphasise that this is a collaborative endeavour, one that relies on the BBC harnessing the expertise of a number of partners from across the broadcast and technology industry – from OBS to the CDNs, they all play a vital role in this journey.

Hopefully it goes some way to illustrating how many incredible processes have occurred in the background, as you press play and prepare to watch Victoria Pendleton go for gold.

Cait O'Riordan is the Head of Product, BBC Sport and London 2012


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks Cait for your fascinating article. Do you know if the BBC is using its own content distribution network (CDN) entirely, or whether it's also using commercial CDNs operated by companies such as Akamai? My understanding is that Akamai provides the CDN for the BBC's iplayer and I therefore suspect that it will have a key role to play in delivering the BBC's wider Olympics coverage.

  • Comment number 2.

    So why are the BBC claiming that the Olympics Android app is 2.2 and above compatible when it isn't? I have a Galaxy Note on 2.3.6 on the UK's 3 network with flash player 11 installed and the app store tells me my device isn't compatible.

    Secondly, what's the point of streaming anything to the Android iplayer app when the BBC have downgraded the quality of the stream to such a degree that I can't make out anything on the screen. Its just a mass of blobs. It used to be great until recently. By the way this is the same even when set to high quality and on wifi. I'm not alone with this issue so please use any influence you have to get this corrected?!

  • Comment number 3.

    @cdrake72: We use two CDNs to distribute our video content for the Olympics: Akamai and Limelight

    @Fed__Up: Our BBC Olympics app isn’t optimised for larger screens like the Note, which is why you can’t install it. For Olympics video content you should go to bbc.co.uk/sport and use the mobile link at the bottom of the page to set that you want to view the mobile site, which will take you to m.bbc.co.uk. You can then access Olympics content from the mobile homepage. I am sorry that's a bit convoluted. We do our best to make our content work as well as possible on a wide range of devices and operating systems and will continue to improve our mobile offering on the BBC Sport site.

  • Comment number 4.

    Congratulations BBC! Amazing, ground-breaking results.

    I am just a viewer but here are my thoughts as 'your audience'

    I watched all the Olympic content online using the new iplayer.

    Because I read this Blog, I'd had a go before the Olympics started. Wonderful! A godsend!
    Couple of thoughts - From the home page it is not easy to find what you want. There is too much information and too many links which only link to random reporting. There needs/needed to be a clear link to the Olympics page.

    I got there because of the BBC Blog that I usually visit - and by clicking on the link in the menu at the top of the page - straight in - no messing. Easy. (For me)

    But feel sorry for the rest of the public that don't have a clue about these services.

    If you are savvy - and you know how - then we have had a blast and been knocked out by the fabulous on-line service provided.

    Feel sorry for the rest, though... still floundering around on the home page.. doing searches... sobbing...

    But I don't want to deflect on how wonderful the on-line service has been.

    Oh and where are all the many critics who posted on this Blog before, during and after the service went to the wire? *looks round*


  • Comment number 5.

    "Our BBC Olympics app isn’t optimised for larger screens like the Note, which is why you can’t install it."

    That comment seems to suggest that an app that completely refuses to work at all is somehow a better user experience than one that is 'unoptimised' but functional (which is what many Android apps are on the higher resolution devices). I'm sure you don't mean that since it's clearly nonsense, but could you explain what you do mean?

  • Comment number 6.

    thanks, thats very interesting, just one thing that i did mention on the iphone app blog, video on the iphone app failed to work a lot of the time and wasnt just me, i work out and about with a good many iphone and smartphone addicts.
    Would have been nice to find out or report a failure as many of us were very disappointed there.

    loved the 24 channels when home and used the pc player too, the extras bar etc got a bit too confusing to comprehend at times, more of a gimmick than of any real use i found.
    But a nice try BBC as always to try some new ways for viewers.

  • Comment number 7.

  • Comment number 8.

    Cait has blogged again at the end of the Olympics, about the BBC Online audience for the games. To keep the conversation in one place, I'm closing comments on this post.


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