The “nuclear option” of streaming reality: Ask Australia’s Optus

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The BBC told a London conference June 19th that OTT transmissions were the way forward, and certainly for its few and far between Ultra HD broadcasts.

The BBC is making available UHD signals via its iPlayer service of the current FIFA World Cup football matches, but declined to give any idea as to the numbers of viewers who had managed to access the signals. The BBC had previously said that access would probably be limited to “thousands” of viewers.

Andy Quested, Lead, BBC Production Standards, said that the grumbles from some consumers about the lack of synchronicity between audio and video was down to the challenges of broadband service providers, and that the BBC considered the exercise as experimental and that lessons were being learned.

He said that an alternate mass-market satellite-delivered service was not an option, although sources close to satcaster SES confirmed that the BBC had been offered free access to satellite for the FIFA games.

However, if the BBC wants an object lesson in depending on broadband for the supply of a mass-market sporting event they should speak to Australia’s OPTUS, where the FIFA video stream was “battered” by multiple failures and admitting that they were overwhelmed by consumer demand, and in particular last-minute requests for the signals. Optus charges A$15 a month for access.

Optus subscribers suffered buffering and throttling issues for the games, along with blank screens and “playback errors” when signing in. The backlash forced Optus to hand over its transmissions to rival conventional national public broadcaster SBS for free-to-air re-transmission.

The problems resulted in Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull getting involved.

Optus later blamed the number of devices attempting to access the signals, including Apple TV users. Optus CEO Allen Lew said the telco would use the two days of SBS simulcasting to come up with a “robust solution”. “We have a dedicated team that have been working around the clock to attend to the technical issues,” he said. “The demand is no reason for us to make the mistakes that we did over the weekend so I apologise for that.”

Lew said the two-day deal with SBS was about creating a failsafe for its customers. “There’s no doubt this has adversely affected the Optus brand … everybody is very disappointed, to put it mildly,” an apologetic Mr Lew told reporters.

Late on June 19th Optus decided to abandon its OTT delivery completely. Subscribers will get their money back – at least for games up to June 29th –  and confirming that its expensively acquired rights (A$8m) will now be assigned to free-to-air TV on SBS. As yet, it is unclear what might happen for the two of the quarter-final games, and subsequent matches.  Also unclear is what could be in store for Australians wanting to view the Optus exclusive games of the English Premier League, due to be carried from August.

Quite how the BBC will cope with an all-OTT delivery of key national events – in particular in UHD – is a major question for their engineers, and hopefully they can cure the audio vs video latency problems, as well as opening up their UHD transmissions to the UK’s millions of owners of UHD displays.


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