By all accounts, BBC Scotland's decision to broadcast the 2009 World Pipe Band Championships' Grade 1 competitions was a great success – and it still is, since the video files remain available at the organization's site. It's not just a cut-rate single camera grainy feed; this was an all-out multi-camera, high-quality-sound production, with a total team of 68 engineers, producers, designers, riggers, stagehands, drivers and presenters coordinating the project.
And it was all free – or, rather, it was all free to non-UK residents, thanks to the generous tax contributions from British citizens who make the publicly funded, commercial-free BBC possible through their television licenses. The organization seemed to listen when outcry was loud in past years when the BBC posted video from the contest after the event, but making is accessible only to those with a UK-based IP address.
On the day of the World's, BBC Scotland reported anecdotally that it had counted more than 40,000 total visits to the website.
By all accounts, they were extremely pleased with that traffic, especially considering there were about 4,000 likely viewers competing at the World's, and 40,000 (according to the RSPBA) or so pipe band enthusiasts counted as ticket-buying spectators at Glasgow Green.
The RSPBA allegedly enthusiastically announced on the day of the World's that some 40,000 unique visits had been counted – a number that seems to be confused with total visits. "Uniques" are those visits tallied from a single Internet protocol (IP) address.
"In total we [had] in excess of 40,000 hits on the website," said Grigor Stirling, Outside Broadcast Director at the BBC. "Further analysis shows this represented 13,232 unique users across the two streams. This would indicate that individual users logged in to the stream several times during the day."
The BBC did not comment on web traffic for comparable music events from which the broadcaster has streamed live video, but the World's numbers, according to sources within the organization, fair blew away not only their expectations, but other music events.
"It is difficult to run a comparison with other live events as they vary so much in nature," Stirling said. "T in the Park, for instance, is a three-day event and we did not provide live streaming from any of the performances during the festival. The live streaming from the World Pipe Band Championships was an add-on service this year to mark the Year of Homecoming
At Glasgow Green on the day there were no fewer than four 18-wheeler tractor-trailers, each carrying audio-video and satellite technology to make the process possible. Dozens of microphones, kilometres of cable and a multitude of BBC employees on the scene were deployed to bring the action to light.
Meanwhile, back at BBC Scotland modern new headquarters in Glasgow at Victoria Quay, the team was considerably smaller – as in two. Paul McFadyen worked the actual website, uploading the content, providing the graphics and essentially being the last point of contact between all that technology and you watching on your computer at home. The whole multi-truck, myriad-gear, professional process occurring at Glasgow Green was distilled to two people who made it actually happen.
By comparison, pipes|drums achieved more than 10,000 unique visits on August 15, the day of the 2009 World's, and close to 250,000 page-views on the day, making it once again the most active 24 hours of the year for the magazine in terms of traffic. It's safe to assume that a good portion of the "unique" streams from BBC Scotland's World's micro-site were garnered from the hundreds of thousands of visitors the media property gets every day, and perhaps many of those were glancing visits from curious non-pipers/drummers.
With the success of the live video streaming of the 2009 World's, does the BBC plan to take on additional piping and drumming events?
"There are no current plans from BBC Scotland to provide live . . . coverage from other piping or pipe band events," Stirling said, and when it comes to plans for the 2010 World's, he added, "We have not considered in detail the extent of coverage we may produce from the event next year, as it is obviously still some way off."
One thing is certain, though: the piping and drumming world has become smaller while its largeness has at the same time been realized through the BBC's investment in the 2009 World Pipe Band Championships.
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