The FIFA World Cup 2014 saw an interesting mix of innovation, strategy, preparation and achievements on the pitch - but these qualities were also notable in the broadcasting efforts that showcased the tournament to a global audience on a larger scale than ever. The investments in infrastructure and technology for the tournament proved that the broadcasting industry is entering a new age - where data is larger than ever before, networks more complex, availability must be guaranteed at 99 percent with several 9s after the coma, with secondary feeds always accessible to step in. In this new era, storage, sharing and network capacity cannot be considered as issues, but as a commodity, elementary service.
The broadcast technology industry can be broadly split into two core business types: those who sell equipment and software directly, and those who lease equipment and software as services. Years with large sport events offer on average 9 percent more growth for service providers than for equipment manufacturers. For manufacturers however the year before Olympics or Football World Cup is more important as they advertise their newest products in advance in order to backlog orders and provide products usually several months before the kick-off. In terms of financials, each time after a major sport event we see that key infrastructure providers will record occasional use revenues on a level matching their total occasional use in a previous year. With billions spent on TV rights and advertisements, infrastructure providers are under high pressure to deliver the highest quality content without outages.
Boosting up local infrastructure
The recent FIFA World Cup in Brazil was not only newsworthy because of its participants’ skills but also in terms of numbers and variety of multimedia productions. FIFA sold media rights licences to almost 200 territories globally. The licences were divided into four categories: TV, radio, internet and mobile, with TV and internet being most sought after by licensees, followed by radio. Mobile services were not utilized in many territories. According to the multimedia data revealed by FIFA, the World Cup offered 6 multilateral streams, 17 unique streams per match and 4 individual commentary streams. There were 243 live streams per match (doubled during parallel matches) and 2.8m minutes of encoded streams. The variety of streams was only possible due to large investments into local infrastructure which then was connected via fibre, satellite or content delivery network with global service providers responsible for media transportation.
Brazilian Government announced that R$1.6bn (USD $720m) of public and private funds contributed to expanding the country’s telecommunication infrastructure. Telebras – an incumbent telecom infrastructure provider – installed over 15,000km of fibre optic inside the country and transferred 166Tb of data from stadiums and other official venues. Most of this data was in the form of mobile pictures and short movies sent between live spectators and their friends and families watching it elsewhere or via social networks, rather than broadcasting feeds. Despite, total revenue for professional video transmissions in Brazil (excluding teleport services) is expected to grow by 75 percent between 2006 and end of 2014, including a 13 percent increase in 2014 over 2012, and will offer another 12.5 percent growth for service providers between 2014 and 2016 – a year of Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
As a result of large infrastructure investments Brazil was able to add fibre capacity on connections between its main cities with the states of Amazonas and Mato Grosso which as a result may contribute to their general development. The links will most likely be also used for TV contributions inside the country. That will lead to a lower pressure on satellite C-band television contributions and satellite service providers will have more possibilities to offer C-band services to non-TV related enterprises. In a longer period that process will decrease the significance of satellite TV contribution and consequently allowing fibre to take the dominant position in the contribution segment similarly to other developed markets in North America and West Europe. Satellite Ku band services used for DTH distribution will remain leading option for Brazilian households and IHS don’t expect current ratio of DTH vs cable and IP which stands at 5:1 to decrease as and Brazil is going to remain one of the largest free satellite markets in the world.
Satellite and Fibre also profit from occasional use
Once produced, the signal from stadiums had to be transmitted to customers globally. Global and regional satellite, fibre and CDN operators provided their own services and infrastructure to meet the growing demand of viewers. Satellite and fibre were in many regions used as a first and secondary source of transmission to either terrestrial headends or directly to customers depending on country’s individual agreement with service providers. In Europe, the EBU, which handled most of European media rights to the Brazilian event, delivered SD and HD transmissions from all 64 games as well as 3 games in 4k. Their network comprises fibre and satellite assets owned by EBU and their partners.
Key satellite operators announced that on top of all existing capacity agreements at least 1400MHz of their occasional use transponder capacity was leased for broadcasting purposes during the tournament. To put it in perspective, this number is higher than either SES’s or Intelsat’s total occasional use in a non-sporting year. SES and Intelsat together enabled 17 satellites for transmissions to North America and Europe mostly but also to other parts of the globe. The majority of almost 3 billion people with access to either satellite or terrestrial infrastructure globally were able to access transmissions from at least one of the 200 territories.
Growth in second screen viewing
The landscape for TV transmissions is changing and so is the demand for better quality products and availability to see games on the second screen. FIFA announced that their official World Cup application had been downloaded over 10m times in less than two months before and during the tournament and that the peak count of users reached 3m per day. In total, 24m unique users watched 15m hours of FIFA second screen (including internet video player) productions alone.
The situation looks even more interesting on the operators’ side. Akamai’s peak traffic event before 2014 World Cup in Brazil was the Sochi Olympics and the Ice Hockey game between USA and Canada with 3.5Tbps whereas the final Hockey game had “only” generated traffic of 1.6Tbps. The opening game in Brazil generated 3.2Tbps which was one of the lowest peaks during the entire event. A few days later Akamai delivered over 4Tbps of data delivered during the Germany - Portugal game. But the highest traffic carried simultaneously came on Thursday, 26th June with final games in Group G. On that day Akamai recorded 6.84Tbps – almost double the peak from Sochi.
From the semi-finals onwards, traffic didn’t drop below 3Tbps and on several occasions it reached at least 4.5Tbps. The FIFA World Cup 2014 Final delivered 6.62Tbps of live streaming and was outreached only by Netherlands – Argentina with 6.87Tbps. It is worth mentioning that Akamai delivered all 64 matches to over 50 rights holders. Their total traffic was over seven times greater than throughout FIFA World Cup 2010 and over 2.3 times higher than during Winter Olympics in Sochi, with 23 World Cup games exceeding the peak of Sochi’s traffic. The highest number for unique online viewers was recorded during the USA – Belgium game with 5.3 million ESPN and Univision customers tuned in. As a comparison BBC iPlayer’s highest average monthly peak so far came in February 2014 and was 7.5 times lower with 702 thousands viewers. To reach 5.3 million, 15 percent of all Netflix US subscribers would have to tune in to the same show.
IHS recently announced that CDN media transport revenue will increase by over 11.5 percent between 2013 and 2014. This growth was largely driven by two key sporting events – Winter Olympics in Sochi and FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Not surprisingly, the highest ever traffic recorded by Akamai also happened during the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. During the semi-final between Germany and Brazil, that generated 5.8Tbps, Akamai’s total traffic reached 23Tbps – equivalent to around 21 thousand of hours of iPlayer’s HD videos.
UHD trials lead the way ahead of 2016
The FIFA World Cup 2014 will also be recorded for the number of Ultra High Definition (UHD) test transmissions. Several broadcasters, technology and service providers collaborated to enable UHD on a larger scale. Broadcasters including BBC, NHK and Telefonica teamed up with equipment providers such as Broadcom, Elemental, Ericsson, NEC, Newtec and Sony, and via satellite and fibre networks of BT, Eutelsat, Intelsat and SES provided one of the first live transmissions in UHD.
BBC’s UHD trial tested simultaneously their DVB network and IP distribution. Signal – transmitted via Eutelsat 10A satellite in MPEG 4 from Rio de Janeiro to BBC’s West London centre via Globecast’s downlink London facilities – was carried over as four feeds of the 3G HD-SDI signal (HD-SDI is used for 1080p60 transmissions). The 80Mbps transmission was downlinked by a four meter dish and transmitted to BBC via fibre. There video was down-converted and processed. The final product had a bitrate of around 35Mbit/s for DTT and 8Mbit/s for IP and a frame rate of 59.94Hz.
According to several previous studies on UHD published by IHS first channels broadcasted in new standard will appear between late 2015 and early 2016. Around the same time markets are going to introduce enough HEVC STBs to offer these channels to customers with UHD TV screens. Technical ecosystem will emerge in 2017-2018, with commercial mass market in 2021-2022.