Akamai, Elemental, social networks all claiming gold at Rio Olympics

Athletes from the US and Great Britain aren’t the only ones leaving Rio with their heads held high. The 2016 Olympics marked the first games in which OTT streaming has become the standard viewing behavior ahead of linear TV, and the industry took up the challenge of embracing this technology – operators, broadcasters, pure play OTT services, and vendors all appreciated the importance of the technological transition.

Most notably, Facebook, Snapchat, Google, Comcast, NBC and Globo all had to up the game of their online platforms for this year’s Olympics coverage. The real winners here were the social networks, which dished out some pretty devastating blows to companies used to hogging all the Olympics’ viewing glory.

YouTube’s multiscreen coverage tapped famous stars from its platform to live stream their own coverage. Facebook went one step further by getting athletes to live stream their experiences, as well as personalizing content in users’ news feeds. Snapchat teamed up with seven broadcasters across the US, UK and Brazil, including NBC and the BBC, and Twitter also got athletes involved with personalized Tweets and videos.

NBC claims its live streaming coverage of the Olympics racked up some

two billion minutes’ (3,800 years) in the first week, as its NBC sports app saw usage go through the roof with a 232% increase compared to the 2012 London Olympics.

Despite NBC boasting these figures, this was its worst Olympics since before there was a TV in every household, with total audience ratings less than in 2012 – a clear representation for how the coverage on social media networks managed to steal a sizeable share of the US broadcaster’s audience.

Technology vendors are also claiming medal wins for their work behind the scenes at the Olympics. One of those is software only encoder supplier Elemental Technologies, now owned by AWS, which announced a contract win with Brazilian broadcaster Globo in April this year – claiming successful delivery of coverage to an audience “measuring in the billions”.

Elemental handles live encoding for Globo’s HD OTT content, as well as just in time packaging for its on-demand offerings. Globo announced the launch of its Globo Play OTT service back in October, initially as an ad-supported offering and hinting at the possibility of turning this into an SVoD model.

Globo’s Brazilian market is one of great opportunity for Elemental. While Globo Play might have small beginnings, it is pitching it to a potential market of 115 million Brazilians with an internet connection. Faultline’s own research puts the number of Brazilian pay TV customers at 18 million at the end of 2013, and now north of 20 million – which provides plenty of opportunity to sell Globo Play through to existing pay TV subs.

Currently, Globo is using Elemental Server for its file-based video processing, with Elemental Conductor for the actual transcoding which converts the video files into a format that can be viewed on multiscreen devices – whether they are phones, tablets, laptops, or connected TVs.

Elemental Live handles the linear content that needs to be sent to these devices, which the company claims allows Globo to transcode MXF files quickly enough to use in real-time VoD workflows – before pushing the video to the required CDNs to ship the video packets across the networks to the viewer. The usual array of second-screen engagement and personalization options are also provided by Elemental, but it hasn’t been clarified which components Globo is using.

Elemental’s live software also supported the 40 channels of Net Brazil, the OTT service of Brazilian telco Embratel, as well as Antel in Uruguay.

We’re not sure exactly how much of this is running on AWS resources, but in Elemental’s other deployments such as the recently announced Shomi in Canada, this uses Elemental Cloud, the Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Amazon CloudFront as an origin server to the Akamai CDN.

The Olympics was also a huge test even for CDN giant Akamai, which said its networks delivered a higher volume of video traffic over the internet in the first eight days of this year’s Olympics than it did for the entire 34 days of the London Summer Olympics and Sochi Winter Olympics combined.

During the first nine days of the games, NBC averaged 27.9 million viewers, a decrease of 15.5% from the 33 million viewers four years ago. The opening ceremony audience also suffered, down 35% from the London opening ceremony with viewers age 18-34 years the most common abandoners with a 30% drop in viewers from this age group.