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World Cup 2014: The Drama in the Data

The excitement and drama of this year's World Cup combined with huge connected audiences, more devices and higher Internet connection speeds helped drive unprecedented levels of live online video streaming. FIFA itself called the tournament "the biggest multimedia sporting event in history." 

According to Mediaset España, the World Cup drove significant traffic thanks to the increasing use of mobile devices. "We needed to provide our users with high-quality experiences regardless of what device they used or the location from where they accessed our content," explained Jorge Martín Ibarra, IT Director at Mediaset España. Ibarra said they chose to work with Akamai because they "were confident that the breadth of the Akamai cloud services, including high-quality video, site performance and security would improve the viewer experience while watching the tournament."

By helping more than 50 rights-holding customers live stream every match into over 80 countries, Akamai was afforded a unique vantage point of traffic patterns and trends during the tournament (Ok, and maybe catch a match or two while we were at it.). While we're leaving it to the rights holders to reveal details on their respective streaming figures, engagement rates, device usage and the like, we've been able to draw some interesting observations from the overall traffic that was delivered across the Akamai Intelligent Platform. 

The numbers below are all measured in Terabits per second (Tbps). For some simple context, 1 Tbps is the equivalent of downloading the 1981 classic soccer film, "Victory" (Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Pele), 625 times per second.

The Netherlands-Argentina World Cup semifinal traffic peak of 6.9 Tbps is the equivalent of downloading 4,312 copies of "Victory" every second.
In terms of sheer video traffic volume, the World Cup has been the largest live sports event Akamai has ever helped deliver, with over 2.5 times the traffic volume of the Sochi games and over 7 times the traffic of the 2010 World Cup. In fact, the Argentina vs. Netherlands semi-final on July 9th peaked at 6.9 Tbps, making it the highest peak traffic rate of any live sports event delivered by Akamai. The July 13th final between Germany and Argentina was the second-highest-peaking individual match, coming in at 6.6 Tbps. Meanwhile, the Germany vs. Brazil semi-final on July 8th reached 5.8 Tbps, which contributed to the highest overall total traffic peak ever recorded on the Akamai Intelligent Platform at 23 Tbps.

It's also been interesting to correlate the traffic rate peaks with the teams and matches that drove them. For example, matches taking place on Tuesdays saw the highest average peak at 5.1 Tbps; Saturday had the lowest, at 3.0 Tbps.

Weekday matches (4.2 Tbps) averaged 20% higher than those taking place on the weekend (3.5 Tbps). This likely points to a trend that we've seen with other live sporting events where viewing on connected devices is higher during the work-week, when viewers cannot watch on the big screen at home.

Using Eastern Time in the U.S. as a basis, we saw that earlier start times typically drove higher peaks. 3 p.m. EDT kick-offs peaked at an average of 4.9 Tbps, followed by 12 p.m. (3.9 Tbps), 4 p.m. (3.4 Tbps), 6 p.m. (2.2 Tbps) and 9 p.m. (1.8 Tbps).

Not only did Germany win the World Cup, they also claimed the highest average peak (5.1 Tbps) of any team in the tournament; they were followed by Portugal (4.9 Tbps), the U.S. (4.8 Tbps) and Ghana (4.5 Tbps). Those four teams also happened to form the Group of Death, driving the highest average peak of all World Cup groups in the first round.

At the other end of the spectrum, South Korea and Japan tied for lowest average peak at 1.8 Tbps each, likely strongly influenced by time zone mismatch. They were slightly behind Ecuador and Russia's 1.9 Tbps each.

For the entire World Cup, Akamai saw an average peak of 4.3 Tbps.

Preparations for the World Cup began more than a year in advance according to Troy Snyder, VP and Executive Producer for Akamai's Media Division. "Throughout the World Cup, the Akamai Intelligent Platform scaled to the massive demand delivering pristine video to connected devices worldwide, all while continuing to reliably deliver and secure all of the other non-World Cup traffic we facilitate each day." 

For more on the World Cup and a human spin on this data check out the earlier post by my colleague, Kurt Michel.

Chris Nicholson is a senior public relations manager at Akamai.