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Volume of World Cup Streams Proves Historic

ESPN is working out the kinks and providing truly timely and stunning coverage results—across all platforms.

New York—2014 has been watershed year for streaming video-over-IP coverage of major, geographically dispersed multi-venue sporting event, both in the U.S. and around the world. With the required technology and workflow methodology for doing it rapidly maturing, it seems everyone wants in on the action (if not the nascent additional revenue), from broadcasters to content owners to consumers themselves, with no letup in sight.

In February, the virtual world watched the Winter Olympic Games, mostly live from Sochi, Russia, on their computers, tablets and cell phones, breaking several steaming media usage numbers along the way. Last week FIFA wrapped up its World Cup soccer tournament and the number of IP-enabled users was once again staggering.

This year’s World Cup broke all kinds of social media usage records.

“This has been the first truly mobile and social World Cup,” said Sepp Blatter, FIFA President, in a statement. “The 1 billion attendance in the global stadium created the sense of togetherness the World Cup brings and the shared excitement that digital platforms offer.”

Reuters reported that the final World Cup match, between Germany and Argentina, was the biggest social event ever for social media site Facebook; with 88 million people contributing more than 280 million interactions about the game. This easily beat the previous record set by the 2013 Super Bowl. Facebook also said 350 million people generated 3 billion interactions during the full month of the FIFA tournament.

In a statement, Facebook said its data team looked at all mentions of the tournament and collated information including the matches, moments and players most commented on.

Twitter said it saw 618,725 tweets per minute, beating the previous record set when Germany beat Brazil in the semi-finals game. The social media site also reported that 35.6 million tweets were written before, during and soon after the game.

Akamai, the file streaming service and IP bandwidth provider, said it delivered 2.97 Tbps of data during the third place July 12 match between The Netherlands and Brazil.

Technology vendors also enjoyed their best showing ever at a multi-national sporting event. LiveU, which supplies IP-enabled video transmission systems that use the public cellular networks for bandwidth (including the new the LU500), LiveU said that over 80 broadcasters used more than 200 of its units each week of the tournament.

LiveU said the total number of hours transmitted topped 2,650, with 10,156 total sessions equating to over 40 Tbps of data. The company also said that 98 per cent of the IP transmissions were live and that Brazil’s newly installed 4G networks allowed LiveU’s units to reach speeds of over 8 Mbps as broadcasters went live from all over the country. 

Brazil topped the list of countries talking about the tournament: 55 million people in Brazil joined the conversation between June 12 and July 13—that’s 57 percent of people on Facebook in Brazil. Reuters said that the U.S. was second, with 48 million people participating in social media conversations, and then Mexico with 19 million unique posts.

Of course, with so many people trying to log on to a game feed or related event, all was not perfect, in terms of streams served. During the first round, during game between the U.S. and Germany, ESPN said it experienced some server issues with its Watch ESPN site while trying to stream ESPN’s coverage of the U.S.-Germany game—rendering the WatchESPN app inaccessible during a portion of the match.

[For the entirety of the USA-Germany match, WatchESPN averaged 1.05 million viewers, making the live stream about 10 percent as popular as the television broadcast, according to Nielsen ratings.]

In a statement from the all-sports network (the exclusive U.S. “broadcaster” of the tournament) soon after the Germany-U.S. game, ESPN said, “First half peaked at more than 1.4 million peak concurrent viewers on WatchESPN, a record. Investigating some limited issues due to unprecedented demand.”

Those issues (GigaOm said that some online viewers experienced delays of up to 20 seconds, due to the overwhelming demand), whether they were caused by the network’s content delivery network or the hosting service it uses, were worked out during subsequent tournament games. [ESPN’s WatchESPN service is only available to pay TV customers whose pay TV providers have a deal with ESPN.]

That being said, online users watched 30 million viewing hours of ESPN’s live streams during the 2014 World Cup, again, making the tournament the most-streamed live sporting event in the United States ever. [By comparison, The Winter Olympics earlier this year generated 10.8 million viewing hours, with about 80 percent of those live.]

The fact that so many matches were played during working hours in the U.S. also had a lot to do with the record numbers. Last Thursday’s USA-Germany match actually strained some servers — a smattering of users said the WatchESPN app was inaccessible to them during a portion of the match.

Univision, with its proprietary technology that enabled it to broadcast the games to U.S. viewers several seconds faster than ESPN and ABC (The New York Times said Univision spent “a half-million dollars in new technology” to do it), also live-streamed its Spanish language coverage of the matches. One match, between The Netherlands and Mexico, was streamed by an average of 303,000 viewers and watched via TV by another 10.4 million.

CNN quoted Univision as saying it was not only the “most-viewed soccer match in Spanish-language television history,” but also “the most-viewed telecast in Spanish-language television history.”

What events like the World Cup have proven is that content providers like ESPN are working out the kinks and providing truly timely and stunning coverage results—across all platforms. As a result, consumers are now watching video whenever and wherever they feel most comfortable (or when they can steal a moment during work). Going forward, they will expect more of the same.

Of note: Japan’s national broadcaster NHK delivered nine World Cup games in 8K resolution (at 7680×4320 resolution, also know as “Super Hi-Vision”) to four cities in Japan and three locations in Rio de Janeiro via a series of IP interconnections. The uncompressed live 8K transmission in Brazil (originating at 24 Gb/sec of bandwidth) was compressed using H.265 HEVC technology and then distributed (to select viewing stations) at 300 Mbps.

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