RealTime IT News

Historic Highs, Lows for Web Video in Inauguration

One of the most historic days in the U.S. presidency was also a historic opportunity for Web video -- with millions of users turning to streaming video sites to get their fix of the day’s events. But as it turned out, the surging traffic choked key sites and corporate networks, making access to streamed video feeds spotty for many.

Despite the problems, video providers say millions took to the Net to watch President Obama's speech in real-time, breaking records for sites like CNN.com, MSNBC.com and others.

But for many, tuning in online was an experience marred by technical difficulties. A New York Times article yesterday reported that many users fed up with problems in accessing online video feeds reverted to mainstream broadcasts to watch the event. Some sites sought to throttle the traffic: CNN.com placed users into a queue before they could view live video, and provided updates on their place in the line.

Meanwhile, many companies sought to limit the impact of video-watching on their network bandwidth, advising employees to avoid watching the inauguration from their PCs. Some provided televisions in common areas to encourage users to avoid clogging their networks.

Still, the problems came as Web video passed another milestone in establishing itself as a major mass-market medium for watching live news and events.

CNN.com reported that it served up 21.3 million live video streams globally, breaking its record-setting Election Day figures, when it pushed 5.3 million live streams. During peak time yesterday, right before Obama’s inaugural speech, the site estimated it delivered more than 1.3 million concurrent live streams.

MSNBC.com and Fox.com also saw dramatic upswings in traffic, according to reports. MSNBC, for instance, delivered more than 14 million streams.

Content delivery network Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM) delivered a peak of over 7 million simultaneous streams shortly after his Obama's speech began, according to a report it released today.

The company said that over 5.4 million visitors per minute were online seeking news and content right before the speech began at noon in Washington, D.C. Akamai's study also noted that 5.4 million visitors were online searching for news of the event just before noon yesterday.

"It is clear that this event has driven unprecedented demand from a global online audience," Robert Hughes, Akamai’s executive vice president of global sales, services and marketing, said in a statement. The company claimed its streams were delivered without a hitch.

The same couldn’t be said for corporate networks across the country, with many major U.S. businesses warning employees to avoid watching streamed coverage of the inauguration at their desk PCs, in an attempt to avoid clogging their bandwidth.

Some organizations set up designated viewing areas in their offices to discourage users from secretly watching via the Web. The Columbia J-school New Media Program blog noted that the school had set up an auditorium with TV access as a viewing area to avoid network congestion.

The Palm Beach Post also designated its auditorium as a viewing area and encouraged employees to avoid online video streaming sites.

"While we won't prohibit your viewing the inauguration over streaming video on the Internet at your workstation, we're encouraging you to watch it on a television in your area or in the auditorium instead," the company said in an e-mail to staff obtained by InternetNews.com.

"We don't want to overload our internal networks with hundreds of PCs and Macs streaming video all at the same time,” it added. “We could bring those trying to perform Palm Beach Post business to a standstill, and those of you watching could experience poor video quality.”