Live 8: AOL's Streaming Video Revolution

Long before Live 8 began broadcasting around the world on July 2, more than 100 people at AOL Music were busy preparing for the event.

"We've done everything we can," Jim Bankoff, AOL EVP of Programming, told BetaNews in London one hour before U2 and Paul McCartney kicked off Live 8. "I guess we'll see how it goes."

Never before had an online event of this magnitude taken place, and the AOL crew was understandably anxious. Live 8 was arguably AOL's coming out party, coinciding with the company opening up its premium content to the general Web on a new AOL.com portal.

Bankoff and his team sensed they were about to set a benchmark in streaming video that could revolutionize the future of broadcasting - if the servers didn't buckle under the load.

AOL may be known for catering to the Internet novice, but the company is no stranger to the world of high tech. To bring Live 8 to the Web, satellites beamed the concert video feeds to an AOL editing facility in California. There, text was added and the raw video was sent over the company's fiber optic network to AOL's Dulles, Virginia headquarters.

The video was then picked up by AOL's Broadcast Operations Center where it was color corrected and adjusted for audio before being sent to stream encoders. With the feeds encoded into Windows Media, the video was sent to servers throughout the United States and Europe - all in real time.

Not only did the servers hold up, AOL was soon streaming over 56 gigabits per second of Live 8 video to 175,000 simultaneous users.

5 million people tuned in to see the live broadcast online, and its clear why: MTV televised commercial laden partial performances while AOL offered up free video feeds in their entirety from six of the ten concert venues: London, Philadelphia, Toronto, Paris, Rome and Berlin.

Armed with just a broadband connection, visitors to AOL Music could instantly bring up full-screen video and toggle between different locations. Upcoming Live 8 performers were teased and shots of the crowd -- 1 million strong in Philadelphia -- were interspersed.

Concert attendees also partook in the streaming video experience. Will Smith opening up Live 8 in Philadelphia was streamed in real-time around the world as he introduced each city - highlighting just how global Live 8 truly was.

Additionally, during the downtime while artists setup their gear, performances from other Live 8 venues were played on giant video screens. London was treated to Bon Jovi rocking Philadelphia, while those in Philly watched Coldplay perform in London.

In the week following the event, AOL says it served over 25 million on-demand plays of Live 8 performances, which can be individually selected based on artist and city in multiple video formats. In comparison, AOL usually serves 1 million plays of its concerts each week.

Answering that demand, AOL will keep the videos streaming through September 5. And not surprisingly, Bankoff was pleased with the response.

"There's no doubt that the success our live coverage of the Live 8 events marked a pivotal moment in the perception of the Web as a medium that can capture the attention of a mainstream audience," he said.

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