BBC's Olympic coverage could cause online meltdown

BBC's Olympic coverage could cause online meltdown

As part of its plans to put its TV coverage of the Olympic Games on the Internet for the first time this summer, the BBC corporation is testing an entirely new way of broadcasting over the web.

The trial was deemed necessary following warnings by the BBC's new media chief, Ashley Highfield, that online coverage of the Olympics may be too popular for its own good.

Throughout the Athens games, broadband customers will be able to watch high-quality live coverage, switch between different events, access highlights on demand and call up accompanying features and statistics.

Because the BBC is aiming to show the footage live in relatively high quality, thousands of people trying to access it at the same time could cause a log jam and slow down Internet connections throughout the country.

“If 100,000 people try to access broadband Olympics at the same time it could melt the UK's Internet infrastructure," cautioned Highfield.

There are currently 4.6 million broadband subscribers in the UK, while millions more have access at work.

But Mr Highfield said the BBC was already working with Internet Service Providers to trial a system where it would "multicast" the events.

This involves the corporation sending the footage to each ISP, which then manages the flow of the video footage to its subscribers.

In this way, said Mr Highfield, they would be able to control the video streaming much more effectivley.

"In many ways it's quite revolutionary, because for the first time the BBC is relying on other people to carry some of the broadcast load for it," he said.

If the trial does not work, then the BBC will have to reduce the quality of the coverage or limit access to the most popular sections.

Mr Highfield also revealed that the corporation had started trials of its Creative Archive online services, plans for which were announced last year by former director general Greg Dyke.

The Creative Archive initiative will see thousands of free clips available to download and keep via broadband.

"The Creative Archive will give everyone in the UK the freedom to search for and access clips from the BBC's television and radio archives via the BBC's website," said Highfield.

According to the BBC, the Creative Archive initiative will launch in autumn 2004 with the initial focus on factual radio and television content, such as natural history footage. People will get free access to around 2,000 clips of up to three minutes long.

Once you have downloaded clips from the BBC website you can keep them forever, manipulate and add to them and pass clips on to one another.

If the first phase of Creative Archive is a success, it will be rolled out across all genres.

Speaking at the Financial Times New Media & Broadcasting Conference, Highfield claimed the BBC had a critical role to play in the growing broadband market.

He said: “I see the BBC's online services having an increasingly important role to play in helping to create a 100 per cent connected, digital Britain."

Sources: Guardian Unlimited, Web User

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