RTÉ says online coverage of Olympics has been a success
AFTER TWO years of preparation for two weeks of TV, RTÉ Digital’s senior technical manager Jonathan Lundberg isn’t happy to hear that viewers accessing the station’s online stream of the women’s water polo semi-final were instead greeted with athletics from the Olympic Stadium. It’s one of a number of blips that had led to some ire regarding RTÉ’s online performance during London 2012.
However, Lundberg is quick to point out that – outside of the live RTÉ stream – the 12 live and recorded feeds available to viewers through the RTÉ website aren’t controlled by those in Montrose. “It’s one of the issues we have had, those channels that viewers see are feeds provided to us by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and they change their schedule on those 12 channels quite regularly.”
RTÉ Digital is still waiting on official online viewing figures from broadcasting partners for London 2012 – iStreamPlanet, which has a specialist facility in London with broadcast feed access, and Haivision, which provided HD stream encoding solutions.
Sitting alongside RTÉ Digital’s technical manager Warren Gatchell and director of operations and production Tom Grealis, Lundburg feels that overall the coverage has been a success. Having had five “raw” feeds available to online viewers in 2008, RTÉ stepped up footage to provide 12 EBU-filmed streams for viewers during London 2012.
Gatchel notes that while official online viewership figures aren’t available, in terms of the terabytes of data being used by viewers he can estimate that “the peak was around 3,500 people on at the same time” for one event.
With Grealis pointing out that “the Olympics is always a benchmark of where we are in terms of technical delivery of sport”, all three can only dream of the level of investment and back-end development which accompanied the BBC’s plans for the Olympics this time around.
Cait O’Riordan, who is head of product for BBC Sport and London 2012, admits it was “daunting” to be given a brief of producing “2,500 hours of live coverage across 24 simultaneous live screens online”.
Within the first week of coverage though, there was a total of over 29 million requests for video content across BBC.co.uk/sport, a figure O’Riordan expects to be repeated once the total coverage of the second week finishes up with Sunday’s closing ceremony.
The first week of coverage, meanwhile, coincided with more than 1.5 million people downloading the BBC Olympics smartphone app on Android and iOS.
RTÉ will have figures regarding which platforms viewers watched their online coverage on soon, but in amongst all the streams of everything from judo to the trampoline, does this level of access to footage represent a game-changer for TV coverage of sport and other live events?
DCU lecturer in online media Dr John O’Sullivan isn’t so sure. “In terms of live blogging, Twitter etc, it’s great that people are kept up to date on the events at the Games, but actual video footage is gold-dust, and then you’re dealing with rights issues and commercial interests.
Lundberg says the technology is there to do this with other sports already “but everything depends on the rights, whether that’s the IOC, the GAA or anyone else”.
Once the games reaches its conclusion at the weekend RTÉ will assess its coverage to see what lessons can be learned for Rio in 2014.
For O’Riordan, whose team are being shadowed by Globo – the Brazilian TV channel expected to deliver footage for the 2014 Games – and the BBC, it’s a case of “following Seb Coe and Locog’s lead and having legacy targets”.
Mentioning next year’s Wimbledon and the 2014 Commonwealth Games as obvious targets, she also talks about using the infrastructure created for London 2012 when creating online viewing experiences for Glastonbury, the Proms “and other events like that” as “it’ll be in viewer expectations from now on to have that level of access”.