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The story of the digital Olympics: streams, browsers, most watched, four screens

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Cait O'Riordan Cait O'Riordan | 13:15 UK time, Monday, 13 August 2012

The first week of the Olympics ended with some record breaking stats for BBC Online.

Since I posted at the end of the first week of the Games, Team GB have broken records of their own, winning the most medals of any British Olympics team since 1908. The once-in-a-lifetime success of our athletes has driven equally incredible engagement from audiences with our Olympics coverage.

With London 2012 at an end, after a spectacular Closing Ceremony last night, I'd like to take this opportunity to tell the story of how the BBC's audiences enjoyed the first truly digital Olympics.

The Olympics in its entirety

Today's sport I never thought I'd watch, shooting. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/olympics/2012/live-video/p00w2zwp

- Daniel Thirsk @thirskazoid, 7:12 AM - 2 Aug 12, Twitter

The BBC's promise was to deliver coverage of every sport from every venue, and we certainly achieved this with our digital coverage: from the blue ribbon events like the 100m final all the way to the first taekwondo heats, the multi-faceted entirety of the Olympics was available to watch throughout the day across online and Red Button.

Overall, this comprehensive coverage drove very large amounts of traffic to the Sport website and to Red Button channels.

Red Button reach peaks early in the games; Online reach peaks in the middle; and cumulative reach rises over the course of the Olympics

Daily Reach and Cumulative Total (millions)
BBC Red Button - BARB reach (people aged 4+), with threshold "watched 15 consecutive minutes or more" - in line with BBC TV channel standard metric. Cookie churn means the BBC Online figures will include some unavoidable duplication over this period.

And the peak audiences for Team GB's medal moments were bigger than anything we've ever seen. Over a 24 hour period on the busiest Olympic days, Olympic traffic to bbc.co.uk exceeded that for the entire BBC coverage of FIFA World Cup 2010 games. On the busiest day, the BBC delivered 2.8 petabytes, with the peak traffic moment occurring when Bradley Wiggins won Gold and we shifted 700 Gb/s.

BBC Sport Online's most requested live video stream was of the Tennis Singles Finals, where Andy Murray and Serena Williams were victorious. You can see the rest of the top ten below:

Live stream Day Requests
1 Tennis Singles Finals - Serena Williams and Andy Murray golds Sun 05 Aug 820,000
2 Bradley Wiggins winning gold in the Men's Cycling Road Time-Trial Wed 01 Aug 729,000
3 Tennis Singles Semi-Finals - Serena Williams and Andy Murray Fri 03 Aug 610,000
4 Mark Cavendish competing in the Men's Cycling Road Race Sat 28 Jul 531,000
5 Athletics Heats including Jessica Ennis in the Heptathlon Fri 03 Aug 468,000
6 Rowing gold for Glover and Stanning in Women's Quadruple Sculls Wed 01 Aug 411,000
7 Team GB winning gold in the Men's Team Pursuit and Victoria Pendleton winning the Women's Keirin Cycling Final Fri 03 Aug 407,000
8 Cycling golds for Chris Hoy (Keirin) and Laura Trott (Omnium) Tue 07 Aug 348,000
9 Athletics Heats including Usain Bolt winning the Men's 100m Final Sun 05 Aug 344,000
10 The Brownlee Brothers winning gold and bronze in the Men's Triathlon Tue 07 Aug 336,000

Top ten most-requested events from Olympic live video streams on BBC Sport Online

Audiences quickly grew accustomed to being able to switch between up to 24 streams. In between the peaks of Team GB medal moments, our data clearly shows people moving across streams to check out a whole host of different events. For example, around 6pm on Saturday 4th, audiences finished watching GB Gold in Women's Team Pursuit Cycling on stream 7 to take a look at the end of Brazil v Honduras in the football on stream 6, before switching back to stream 7 as the cycling action kicked off again.

And while team GB's medal moments drove huge traffic, at the same time less flagship events were getting attention on other streams: at lunchtime on Monday 30th, while a lot of people were watching swimming on stream 1, more people were concurrently watching weightlifting on stream 12.

Below is a snapshot of the action across a select six Red Button streams on Wednesday 1st August, the day Bradley Wiggins won his record-breaking Gold.

Highest peaks included Swimming (twice), Rowing, Judo, Gymnastics, Tennis, Football, Boxing, and Bradley Wiggins.

Number of people watching individual streams (millions, BARB, 4+), stacked totals, for six streams with highest peaks on Wednesday 1st Aug.

We wanted to offer the whole breadth of the Games to audiences.

It's been hugely gratifying to see from our data that they embraced our comprehensive coverage: we saw over 106 million requests for BBC Olympic video content across all online platforms

The Olympics wherever and whenever you want it

I've now sampled all of BBC's Olympic coverage BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC1HD, BBCHD, Red Button, Website, App and Radio 5live...

- Kevin Ormiston @lacksorginality, 11:47 AM - 9 Aug 12, Twitter

Offering everything isn't enough in the age of multiple devices: our further ambition was to ensure audiences could access our coverage wherever they were, and whenever they wanted it. For a lot of our audience, that place was, of course, on television: overall our Olympics TV coverage (TV channels and Red Button streams) reached 51.9m people.

As I've previously observed, this has really been the multi-platform Games, where audiences have consumed our content across PC, mobile, tablet and connected TV at different times of the day.

Our data below splits out the four screens across 24 hours, to reveal some key insights:

PC usage maxes out during the week at lunchtime and during mid-afternoon peak Team GB moments

Mobile takes over around 6pm as people leave the office but still want to keep up to date with the latest action

Tablet usage reaches a peak at around 9pm: people using them as a second screen experience as they watch the Games on their TVs, and also as they continue to watch in bed

Computer peaking during working hours; tablet peaking at bedtime.

Usage by hour across the day by device - for 28 July to 9 Aug

Unique browsers peak at the weekend

Millions of unique browsers daily, stacked, by device type

Consumption of video content on mobile has been perhaps the key takeaway from the two weeks: we saw 12 million requests for video on mobile across the whole of the Games.

We've had 9.2 million browsers to our mobile site and Olympics app over the course of the Games (and over 2.3 million browsers on tablet). While PC and tablet usage has generally peaked and dipped at different times of the day, mobile consumption has increased steadily from the morning to a plateau in the early afternoon, before dipping away in conjunction with TV viewing in the evening. It's obvious: people have their mobiles with them 24/7, and have been using our app and mobile site to keep up to date with the action wherever they are.

The Olympics on your terms

@arealthomastse Too late, he stole the Gold medal. Skip to Chapter 5, Gold Medal point for the over the top reaction. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/olympics/2012/live-video/p00w3151

- Aaron Chai @aaron_chai, 10:18 AM - 5 Aug 12, Twitter

With so much content available across multiple devices, our final challenge was to ensure that audiences could find the things they wanted to watch. Our aim was to put audiences in control of their Olympics experience, transforming the way they could navigate through the huge breadth of coverage using the extra features of the interactive video player.

The chapter marking feature, enabling audiences to go back to key event moments instantly, received an average 1.5 million clicks per day. The chapter marker for Bolt's 100m Final win was clicked on more than 13,000 times.

Looking to the future

We invested in delivering the first truly digital Olympics to ensure that our audience had a fantastic experience during the two weeks of the games.

But we also wanted to ensure that the BBC was in the best position to continue to deliver great experiences for years to come. The infrastructure and video delivery systems we have put in for the games will be used for future coverage for both BBC Sport and the rest of the BBC. And all our Olympics video content will be able to watch online on the BBC Sport website until January 13th.

We also hope to leave a lasting legacy in terms of audiences to BBC online. Over the course of the Olympics we attracted huge numbers of new users to our BBC Sport interactive services and we hope that having enjoyed our digital video coverage they will be back for other events the BBC cover in the future.

The digital development teams in London and Salford as well as our commercial partners have worked incredibly hard for months to ensure that we delivered what we set out to do for 2012. Our editorial colleagues have worked around the clock delivering the video and text coverage that our audience loves. I am so glad all that work has paid off with massive audiences enjoying the games across a multitude of devices. The feedback via email, social networks and on the blogs has been genuinely overwhelming.

But no one has worked harder than the athletes in the Olympic venues. Without them rowing faster, pedalling harder, running quicker and boxing better than their competitors, Team GB wouldn't have delivered so many gold medals. And it is those gold medals that people have come to our digital coverage to watch in their millions.

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



  • Comment number 1.

    Wow - that's a huge vindication of lots of investment. I used the service across multiple devices and a massive range of channels - sometimes using not just 2 but 4 screens to keep up with the action. Really good to see some numbers on mobile and tablet usage.

    Massive thanks to a brilliant team for all the hard work. As Olympic fans we are in your debt. As a worker in web technologies I'm in awe.

  • Comment number 2.

    I note that sports video streams will be kept until January next year. What about the torch relay website? I can imagine this has been bookmarked by users on social media platforms...

    Other than that, the website was a fantastic job well done :-)

  • Comment number 3.

    I have an opinion about the way the medal table is biased look at a points based system 3 points for gold 2 for silver and 1 for bronze medals. britain would be 4th behind Russia

  • Comment number 4.

    Thanks to the team: the numbers vindicate the work, and it was a true taste of a multiplatform future.

    Does the BBC's broadcast rights (and budget) for the next five months allow any further development with the coverage? I'm thinking in terms of metadata-based searching tools, the capability to assemble and share playlists of favourite events or highlights, or for the BBC itself to offer curated retrospectives over the remainder of the year. Even the most avid viewers will have missed some excellent coverage, and it would be a shame for all that content to be frozen in time between now and January, when it offers a chance to keep alive the memories of London 2012.

  • Comment number 5.

    The BBC web site has been an absolute triumph during the Olympics. Having access to all the accumulated video has been marvellous - I've been able to watch so much more than I'd ever have thought to watch before. London 2012 has been truly an iconic period in Britain's recent history, and deserves to be online for a lot longer than the next five months - why can it not be available till the next Olympics at least? Surely it's not the cost of the storage!!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    I would like to thank you for your complete coverage. In the past, smaller sports like Greco-Roman wrestling and Judo have never been given more than a few minutes passing coverage but this time I've been able to watch every minute of every event. I sure hope this continues on to Rio in 4 years time.

  • Comment number 7.

    The TV coverage has been great but I think the BBC can learn a thing or two about its website useability from the likes of the New York Times' site. Still, I think the investment made on the BBC digital platform makes for a more tangible Olympics legacy for Brits than just a temporary boost in national pride.. well done on taking things a huge step forward!

  • Comment number 8.

    Cait, the coverage on BBC has truly been spectacular - thank you! Think the only gripe I heard came from friends abroad who were unable to view the videos online because of BBC geographic restrictions.

    @OldAnarchist (#7): lol, loved the cartoon and I agree about the worthwhile legacy in terms of the BBC digital platform. Think you underestimate the longer term benefits of national pride though!

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks all for your very positive feedback.

    @Stephen Scott: the plan is to keep the torch relay content online permanently, as we own the rights to the footage.

    @Chris: the IOC owns the rights to the Olympic footage and we are allowed to keep it online until January. After that it has to come down.

    @Nick Sweeney: we'll be concentrating our efforts in sport on the rest of our site, completing the refresh if the desktop and mobile versions.

  • Comment number 10.

    Congratulations to the BBC for their fantastic and uplifting coverage of the best Olympics I've ever seen? However why on the very first day after the event does BBC 2 have to air a downbeat miserable documentary giving air time to idiots and fools and reminding us of awful times, what a way to bring us down?

  • Comment number 11.

    @David Mills (#10) - sigh, have to agree with you on that. It would have been much nicer had BBC produced a documentary on the positive impacts of the last 2 weeks instead.. again, that would help cement what I believe to be the real legacy of the games.

  • Comment number 12.

    The BBC coverage was fantastic. Absolutely the best in the world and you should be proud. This is a hugely complex task and so there are things to be learnt. Whilst i found the video streaming brilliant I found navigation a challenge and there might be things to learn. I found it much easier to navigate from BBC Sport than from your London 2012 site. The London 2012 site was dominated by the large uninformative and difficult to use carousel which restricts the amount of useful information on a page. By alternative the BBC sport site is much better laid out. Did analyses pull out any differences in the way found the available streams etc.?

  • Comment number 13.

    The broad coverage of the Olympics across many devices was a huge achievement for the BBC. My only wish is that there had been a more Tablet optimised second screen experience. While the BBC Sport website is rich in content it did not always deliver the optimum experience on a tablet device.

    The BBC Sport app on the PS3 would have made an amazing tablet interface making it much easier to access video content and live streams. Adding the live text service and articles to such an app would greatly enhance the second screen experience for BBC Sport.

    With so much sport on still on the BBC I hope you can build on what you have already delivered to bring these experiences across your full sports output.

  • Comment number 14.

    So, the video of all the events will remain online until January 13th ? I know what I'll be doing at Christmas then :)

  • Comment number 15.

    Hi you are able to give all this information but you cannot keep the web pages updated (the tennis page has not been updated since the 7th August).

  • Comment number 16.

    Congratulations to the BBC on delivering an excellent internet-based service for the Olympics. We used this throughout, sometimes with two or three streams simultaneously. This has transformed access to the wide range of sporting events and I hope this is available for Rio in four years.

    There were very few issues and I'm sure BBC engineering will learn from these. One that we noticed a few times was that the streamer told us that the service was not available at our location (perhaps it thought we were abroad?); this was usually fixed after a while, but also, since we have multiple IP addresses (dynamic and static) , accessing via another seemed to work.

    Again, many thanks for a job well done and far exceeding expectations.

  • Comment number 17.

    I hadn't realised there was a mobile app - I was mainly at home watching online. I know many people abroad who vastly preferred the BBC coverage to their own country's too. All in all, a stellar job, BBC - well done, and please keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 18.

    Fantastic coverage by the BBC team. It is very difficult to cover all sports and make all of them available online (both live and catch-up), but the BBC has done it (and done it well, too!). No lags even during peak times (opening and closing ceremony). Well done!

  • Comment number 19.

    Think the achievement of the BBC in delivering this amount of traffic faultlessly over the games actually surpasses those of Team GB, LOCOG and Danny Boyle combined.

    It's a Gold for the Beeb, well done to all.

  • Comment number 20.

    The posts on the data feed/web aspects were great, and the achievement is impressive. Will there be a technical post on the CDN and packet pushing aspects - after all this was probably the biggest web video streaming event in the history of everything?

  • Comment number 21.

    I thought the online coverage was excellent on my PC and my 'phone. Wasn't tempted once to go and sit in front of the TV ;-)

    Only complaint: Trevor Nelson.

  • Comment number 22.

    There is an amusing comment over at El Reg about how technologies have changed. For those who remember 1.44 MB floppies you would need a pile of about 40,000 TONNES of the things to shift the same amount of data as the BEEB did on Aug 1 !

  • Comment number 23.

    Disappointed that I couldn't watch the streams on my shiny new Google Nexus 7 tablet, due to no Flash player being available for that platform. I suppose it was just unfortunate timing, and I'm sure an HTML5 video version of the iPlayer app will be available soon.

  • Comment number 24.

    Superb BBC coverage of the London 2012 Olympics - used the BBC Sports Live and Catchup coverage of sports extensively - and was able to watch sports I hadn't seen before - congratulations on an impressive effort.

  • Comment number 25.

    Thanks, a lot of stats there, looks like you did well.
    But just one thing that i did mention on the iphone app blog, video on the iphone app failed to work most of the time and wasnt just me, i work out and about with a good many iphone and smartphone addicts/techies and we all had problems.
    Would have been nice to find out or report a failure as many of us were very disappointed there. Perhaps look to have a helpline or online chat with problems next time.

    I too 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.

    Although the video streams were easy to understand, the sport website was too busy to use and so hard to navigate or take in, thankfully the live daily chats with video links worked well on the pc and kept it in all one easy to see place.
    But a nice try BBC as always to try some new ways for us license payers.

  • Comment number 26.

    Thanks all for the great feedback.

    @AlexHarrowhall I hope we will post something on the streaming challenge in the near future.

    @David Robinson: sorry re your google nexus, yes it was a timing problem. We're working on a replacement for flash on Android devices and we'll roll it out as soon as we can.

    @kirstiemcnabb: sorry to hear you had problems with video on our app, we tested out thoroughly and did not have widespread reports of issues. We're working on a new BBC Sport app and will make sure it's easy to feedback on any problems.

  • Comment number 27.

    Wow, thanks for referencing my tweet! Loved the coverage on the BBC Sport website, it allowed me to stream and watch multiple events simultaneously on the big screen (up to 5-6 on some days!), catching up on the events that I missed, as well as checking out the sports that don't really get that much airtime on TV, e.g. I got to see both GB medals in the Judo!

  • Comment number 28.

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