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Passing the Online Torch from Rio to PyeongChang

Lighting the flame marks the beginning of PyeongChang, commemorating the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus, and connecting the games to its predecessors. The lighting ceremony has provided some of the most iconic moments, such as Muhammad Ali lighting the flame in Atlanta in 1996 and Antonio Rebollo shooting a flaming arrow to ignite the cauldron in Barcelona in 1992.

Similar to the torch passing from Greece to the site of the current games, we seek to build on the experience of the past games in order to provide the best possible experience to viewers around the world. These efforts span from technical architectures all the way through live operations.

Online broadcasting has evolved rapidly, from the few limited live streams available for Beijing in 2008 through Rio in 2016, where many countries were able to stream every single event live or on demand. Viewing platforms have proliferated, with users moving from desktops and laptops to myriad connected devices such as Roku, Chromecast, Fire TV, and AppleTV. Additionally, the availability of OTT services has expanded access to even more digital viewers.

This complexity necessitates a deep review of streaming architectures to ensure a high-quality experience can be provided for all viewers. Key considerations are providing for redundancy at all layers of the workflow, designing mechanisms to accommodate loads that could spike at any time, and utilizing monitoring and real-time analytics to keep a pulse on performance and audience behavior. Most broadcasters have at least one layer of redundancy, with many of the more sophisticated providers implementing tertiary and even quaternary layers of failover.

As important as the technical designs are, live operations are critical to the success of any broadcast experience. The Rio games were the first time Akamai's Broadcast Operations Control Center (BOCC) was used to provide eyes-on-glass monitoring of an online broadcast. Since 2016, the BOCC has expanded to cover more OTT providers, more devices, and more sophisticated playbooks that cover a broader range of contingencies. The ultimate goal is to operate an online broadcasting system that is as reliable as traditional broadcast, at higher quality and with a richer user experience.

Just like a country's delegation of athletes, Akamai personnel invest significant time and resources to plan, train, and practice, practice, practice with the goal of making sure that our customers deliver the best possible experience to their audience. We are fortunate to have a team where many folks have worked on multiple major events, ensuring that we adapt to the ever-evolving world and learn best practices from our experiences with previous games to make the current ones the best ever. By the conclusion of the closing ceremony, Akamai consultants and support engineers will have spent more than 10,000 hours of effort architecting, implementing, testing, and supporting PyeongChang.

Both the biggest challenge and most exciting part of preparing for the global events is anticipating which ones will be the record breakers. For Sochi in 2014, peak traffic was during the Men's Hockey Semifinals, a thrilling match between the U.S. and Canada, with the Canadians winning 1-0 and ultimately going on to win the gold. The peak during Rio in 2016 came during the Women's Gymnastics all-around finals. Please add a comment with your predictions for the peak event in PyeongChang!

 

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