Olympics Everywhere

Monday, November 12, 2012

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Those companies that gave their staff free reign to watch as much content as they wanted found that many of them were watching it on their personal devices using the company Wi-Fi. If this was only a few employees it didn’t pose a problem, but in large organisations where 500 people were using their own smart phones and tablets throughout the day, it put a massive strain on bandwidth.
Exterity CEO, Colin Farquhar explores what happened within UK businesses this summer and how it’s taught many that controlling content is a valuable lesson to learn. 

This summer’s games saw UK businesses face a huge wave of demand from staff wanting to view live footage of the sporting action whilst at work. Many companies embraced it, using it as a way to boost staff morale. But with a more relaxed approach to employees accessing and streaming content came the challenge of ensuring a balance was struck between keeping staff happy and ensuring it didn't impact productivity as a result of the additional strain placed on the network. 

Demand for content 
With the BBC broadcasting 24 channels of HD content throughout the day during the period of the games there was certainly no shortage of content to watch. Businesses went one of two ways – they either prepared themselves or they didn't

According to the BBC 37 million people in the UK accessed the BBC sport site throughout the period. That equated to a staggering 7.1 million people a day who were potentially streaming content via their office PCs. Although there was a great deal of warning that business IT systems would be put under considerable strain most businesses didn’t believe the hype and failed to put any additional measures in place to ensure they didn’t face large spikes of traffic that could result in critical network failure. One such organisation was LA City Hall where the CTO had to send out an email to its employees urging them to stop streaming coverage live at work because they were experiencing such a high volume of traffic and were concerned that the network would crash. Being a public sector organisation it was particularly critical that it didn’t and the media coverage of the incident sparked many angry citizens to ask why city employees were being paid to watch TV online. 

Unlimited availability to content 
However, whether companies were prepared or not, employees were watching content in the office and in some cases this caused a challenge for the enterprise that it hadn’t faced before. While some staff chose to watch events at appropriate times during the day, for example in their lunch breaks, unsurprisingly many staff wanted to watch important events live as they happened. So if the final of a rowing race was at 11am, rowing fans wouldn’t want to wait until a break time to enjoy the content. 

The failure by companies to put in place safeguards to limit continuous streaming in most cases resulted in a slower internet connection and in the most severe of instances caused disruptions and breakages to the company’s website. The knock on effects of this would have most definitely been a reduction in overall productivity and could even have jeopardised a sales opportunity. 

BYOD – Bring your own downfall?
Alongside watching content on PCs and TVs the trend for consumers bringing their own devices to work (BYOD) posed an additional problem during this summer’s sporting events. Those companies that gave their staff free reign to watch as much content as they wanted found that many of them were watching it on their personal devices using the company Wi-Fi. If this was only a few employees it didn’t pose a problem, but in large organisations where 500 people were using their own smart phones and tablets throughout the day, it put a massive strain on bandwidth. While adaptive streaming, where the quality of the video is moderated depending on available bandwidth, can go some way to solving the problem, it only goes so far and can’t fix the issue of reduced workforce productivity. This strain put pressure on business critical applications and in some cases forced IT departments to prioritise what their bandwidth was being used for. This resulted in  stressed out IT departments and unhappy employees who were unable to stream the content they wanted to successfully.  

What can organisations learn for the next big event? 
This year’s games was marked as the first the digital Olympics, and while for the consumer that opened up a wealth of exciting opportunities for businesses it required them to pay especially close attention to the impact that live streaming was having on their network and overall business productivity. 

Some businesses that didn’t prepare for their staff viewing content on their PCs or own devices were left struggling to cope with strains on bandwidth. However, there are some measures that can be put in place to retain productivity while also improving staff morale during times like this. It’s these lessons that organisations can learn from and apply to future events which inspire mass viewing of content in the workplace.

Some of these are more behavioural, for example staff crowding round a TV together implies a sense of self-censorship so organisations could arrange specific break times for fans around high profile events to watch them together. However, this becomes more of a problem with the BYOD movement, as it’s difficult to control use from non-company supplied devices. Technology can provide the control that’s needed to protect the network and give staff the content they want while helping them to remain productive. One solution is enterprise IPTV which utilises an organisation’s existing network (building, campus, or metropolitan area) to stream TV and video content to displays, including TVs and PCs, ensuring no bandwidth is used. It can supply a practically unlimited number of high-definition live and on-demand channels and interactive add-ons, with picture quality equal to or better than that of the home experience. 

IPTV makes good use of this spare LAN capacity, enabling IT managers to get more from their network investment, but critically for personal viewing at work it also enables the IT department a level of control over what content’s being watched, when and from which device. This allows organisations to deliver a personal service to employees, giving them access to the high-quality content that’s important to them but only at certain times, ensuring productivity remains high. It also enables added extras. For example content can be displayed on screens while RSS feeds or tweets are displayed at the bottom of the screen, enabling staff to multi-task. It can also be offered as a service to employees looking to watch content on their own devices, fixing the issue of personal device use over Wi-Fi. 
This summer saw many organisations change their attitude to enabling staff to watch TV at work. While many didn’t suffer problems, some did and in order to learn the lessons for next time organisations should not only think about managing staff expectations regarding what they can watch and when, but also consider implementing technology, such as IPTV, to enable an extra level of control in order to protect critical business applications. 

Who did prepare and how 
While some businesses didn’t prepare, many did and we saw a large number of businesses wanting to ensure they had the right infrastructure in place to watch services such as BBC HD. Many of our customers looked to upgrade their existing infrastructure to make sure their employees could enjoy the high-quality HD content the BBC was showing, meaning we saw a rush of businesses investing in HD TV Gateways. While some of these were simply businesses looking to boost employee morale, others were some organisations, such as media companies or sports monitoring/analysis organisations, who needed secure, stable access to all the content being broadcast to help them do their jobs well. 

Case study: 

Exterity worked with AJAR-tec, the bespoke digital media solutions specialist and systems integrator for BT, to provide a unique Olympic Games TV service for the National Olympic Committees based off park in famous London landmarks such as Somerset House and the Royal Arts College. Exterity provided a live IPTV feed of over 40 channels from the Olympic Broadcast Service. These channels were received as a multi-cast stream and passed around the buildings to receivers, servers and desktop video players 24 hours a day. The ingest from BT wasn’t edited at all and therefore, for instance, if there was no activity going on at the Aquatics centre then there was no activity on the content stream – but the stream went to the Olympic Centres regardless, ensuring they always had access to the content they needed. The coverage was particularly important in sponsorship areas throughout the venues where it provided a live backdrop to the games which was watched by high-profile guests including the First Lady Michelle Obama in USA House.  


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