Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wiggins rides roughshod over Messi, Rooney et al

Anybody lucky enough to have accessed the BBC's extraordinary coverage of the London 2012 Olympics, witnessed something truly groundbreaking in the evolution of the multichannel environment.

Users were able to access pretty much every minute of every competition across TV, internet and mobile platforms throughout the duration of the games. In itself this was an impressive enough logistical feat, but there are a couple of metrics from the online coverage which are even more exceptional.

The single most viewed online moment was GB’s Bradley Wiggins winning gold in the road time trial. During that day the BBC’s servers delivered over 2.8 Petabytes of data. I had to look up what a petabyte is, and its a heck of a lot:

What really stands this apart however is the fact that this single event was more popular that than the entire BBC online coverage of the 2010 World Cup. So one bloke sitting on a bike for 50 minutes spinning as fast as he can, trumped the entire panoply of the world’s most famous and most feted footballers over the course of a month.

Its a stark and unavoidable reminder that the digital environment disrupts and changes even the most widely held truisms. While Wiggin’s heroic efforts in winning the Tour de France had established his status as a national hero in the UK, his time trial took place right in the middle of the working day in Britain. Regardless of that fact nobody who could, it seems, did miss the coverage of his latest triumph. And all this in a nation obsessed by its national sport of football, where cycling would politely be derided as a minority interest and certainly not a spectator sport.

Well not in August 2012. All of our understanding, assumptions and expectations of people’s behaviour based on previous knowledge were once again overturned. And yet still many of us continue to have to argue the case against the established certainties of audience behaviour. Essentially there are none anymore. We must start to plan for all eventualities and deliver digital experiences which will appeal beyond the perceived equation of audience targeting + previous activity = assumed behaviour (otherwise known as more of the same).

You can read more about the scale of the BBC’s challenge here. What is equally impressive and less reported however is that the UK online and mobile infrastructure coped. The ISP’s managed to deliver all of this information to users despite the unprecedented demand.

What we now know is, we don’t know what will happen next, but that we can cope if that is what we expect.