TSN scores with simulcast

If your network’s performance took a nosedive in late December and early January, you might want to point a finger at TSN. For the first time in the all-sports broadcaster’s history, TSN served up simultaneous live coverage of a sporting event on TV and online for hockey’s 2007 IIHF World Junior Championship.

While the online viewership didn’t come close to the estimated 2.03 million viewers on TV, it was substantial. Approximately 241,000 unique visitors watched at least some portion of the broadcast live over the Internet, while another 72,000 watched the games later through on-demand playback, according to TSN.

“We’d never done something of this size before,” says Kris Faibish, vice-president of CTV Digital Media. But CTV, TSN’s parent company, had handled broadband simulcasts before on its MTV channel and used that experience to help forecast the potential online audience for the World Juniors. In the end, TSN’s prediction of online demand somewhere between five and 15 per cent of the regular broadcast audience proved to be accurate.

Although TSN didn’t get overwhelmed with calls complaining about the quality of the online broadcast, there were enough to convince the broadcaster to have someone available to accept and answer e-mail complaints, Faibish says.

“Picture quality is a huge concern for us,” she says. “Unlike the television, where you just turn it on and you know the picture will be there, in the Internet world there are so many variables.”

“You’re trying to find that sweet spot, which for us is a great quality video picture which isn’t so big it’s going to cause people’s computers at home to chug.” TSN relied on a number of partners to ensure its broadcast performance was stable, including content delivery provider Akamai, Faibish notes. The World Juniors won’t be a one-trick pony for TSN’s online unit, TSN Broadband, which launched last December. Online viewers can watch TSN programs, such as Off The Record and SportsCentre News, at any time.

The broadcaster also has plans to serve up more live events online in the future.

CTV already offers on-demand content for some of its other broadcast channels and will continue to add more, Faibish says.

“What the Internet does best is provide you with the on-demand experience, so whether it’s the morning, the evening, whatever day of the week it is, you can go in and pick the show or event you’re most interested in,” she explains.

Video is a core driver for Internet bandwidth growth, notes Olaf Krahmer, vice-president of service provider operations with Cisco Systems Canada.

“We expect that to continue and we expect we haven’t seen anything yet,” he says.

While Canadian service provider networks can already support on-demand programming and relatively low definition broadcasts of live events, there’s still significant investment required to enable the networks to handle full-blown IPTV, Krahmer notes.

Telco providers especially must invest in technologies such as VDSL (Very high bit rate DSL) and fibre to the home to provide the bandwidth consumers require for video.

Cisco has technology that can compress high-definition video to 13Mbps, and in the near future will be able to lower that requirement to 8Mbps, but that’s still well beyond the capability of conventional DSL, Krahmer says, especially when there might be multiple streams running into a single home.

“You really need to have about 25Mbps down to the house,” he notes.

“Some of the investment has been made already, but for mass deployment service providers still need to continue to invest in the area.”

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