RealTime IT News

Live 8 Breaks Records for Interactive Tech

Can 26 million text messages help end poverty?

A massive text- messaging campaign for the poverty-fighting Live 8 concerts over the weekend flattened the previous record for an SMS campaign: More than 26 million attendees and TV viewers sent text messages expressing their support for debt relief for African nations, organizers said.

The free Live 8 concerts were organized by musicians Bob Geldof and U2's Bono in order to draw attention for the issue of African poverty in advance of the G8 Summit, a meeting of the world's most prosperous countries being held in the United Kingdom this week.

During the concerts, attendees and those watching on television were urged to send a text message consisting of their names and a code. A Sun spokesperson said the previous record for the number of SMS messages in a single campaign was set in the fourth season of the television show "American Idol," when 41.5 million messages were sent over a 12-week period.

At the Philadelphia concert, Sun Microsystems used its Java technology to provide a text-messaging platform that let concert attendees use various wireless networks connect with Live 8.

Their names and the word "unite" appeared on a ticker that was part of the background for the concert. Sun said it also powers text messaging at U2's concerts in support of Bono's ONE campaign to influence U.S. President George Bush to cancel the international debt owed by the poorest countries and to increase foreign aid.

The nine concerts, held on July 2nd at venues including London, Johannesburg, Philadelphia, Ontario, Berlin, Moscow, Paris, Rome and Tokyo, got strong support from Internet and technology companies, including AOL, Nokia and voice-over-IP provider Vonage.

The volume of SMS sent for the campaign exceeded the organizers' expectations, said Ralph Simon, CEO of Mobilium, the consultancy that produced the texting initiative.

"Everybody was optimistically looking for a major response," Simon said, "but I don't think anybody would anticipate that there would be such an extreme response on a global basis."

Those who messaged paid their network operators the standard fee for texting, according to Simon. "It was not a money-raising thing at all," he said. "We told them, 'We don't want your money, we want your voice.'"

AOLmusic.com also set records with its exclusive Webcasting of six of the concerts. The company said that over five million people watched the concerts live, clocking in with over 175,000 simultaneous video streams. The previous record was set by the Old China National Spring Festival, which delivered over 132,000 concurrent streams, according to Speedera, a content delivery service.

The concerts will be available for replay on-demand on AOLmusic.com for six weeks, and AOL expects the replays to deliver ten times the original traffic.

"We don't think that the world leaders can ignore either two billion people being exposed to our message nor, more importantly, [possibly] 20 million constituents actively text messaging their demand to end world hunger to their respective governments," Mobilium's Simon said.

However, he said, it's uncertain whether Geldof and Bono will be allowed to speak at the G8 Summit. In the meantime, Live 8 organizers still are working to put the millions of names sent via SMS from around the world into a single database.

While that technical hurdle remains to be overcome, Simon said the SMS and AOL audience stats illustrate how media consumption has changed. "If you have a live TV broadcast, you get even more reach and oomph and impact by simultaneously having an Internet component, a mobile component, a blogging component," Simon said.

"For future global entertainment events, those people planning them would be wise to have a multimedia platform rather than just something going out on television."