Live Streaming Set To Boost Glastonbury 2022

The UK’s Glastonbury music festival is set to return this year as a physical event after two years online only, presenting an opportunity to assess how far streaming coverage of such large concerts has come since 2019.

On the one hand, streaming quality has improved as network bandwidth continues to increase and viewing devices become capable of playing out at higher resolutions, while at the same time there are continued innovations around immersive audio, 360 degrees viewing, and the various forms of Extend Reality (XR). The BBC, as the event’s broadcaster, is charged with blending those components to deliver a compelling experience both to fans around the site seeking either to watch more distant gigs or obtain closer alternative views, and to remote streamers. The impact of continued 5G roll out around the UK will also be of interest, given that the last Glastonbury 2019 staged before the pandemic was billed as the first 5G festival by UK mobile operator EE, a subsidiary of telco BT.

Another question will be to what extent innovations in online streaming of music that were driven or accelerated by the absence of physical events during the pandemic will carry over to live coverage now such events are returning. With the long standing and ultimately deep decline in revenues from sales of their songs or productions on physical media, many musicians and bands had come to rely on live performing for the bulk of their income. It is true that some revenues could be derived from streaming via platforms such as Spotify or YouTube, but these were usually miniscule compared with proceeds from sales of CDs in the past, or vinyl records before that. Spotify typically paid under half of a cent per stream, so that an artist would earn $1 from around 250 instances and would require 5 million a year to sustain a relatively modest living.

During the pandemic though progress was made adding value to streams and there was also an acceptance by some fans that they should pay more for watching their favourite bands online just to keep them afloat. For musicians, streaming via OTT video and social media platforms was often the only way of maintaining contact with their fans. Then as social distancing rules eased, events started to make a partial come back via drive-in gigs among various inventions, supported by live streaming.

By the time Glastonbury 2022 starts on Wednesday June 22nd, there will have been a number of physical music events to serve as templates and inspirations for the broadcast and streaming coverage. It is not surprising then that the BBC has declined to give specific details of its streaming coverage until the beginning of that month.

The BBC is less concerned with more exotic innovations around XR when it comes to its Glastonbury stream available on its iPlayer portal, focusing instead on ensuring that quality is as good as it can be and available to all users throughout the festival, while hoping to regain some of its earlier reputation for being at the cutting edge of online event coverage. This reputation was established at the 2012 Olympics in London, when the BBC demonstrated almost for the first time that multiple live streams at a major event could be distributed simultaneously to large audiences at a national level, at a quality better than had been attained before at that scale, with relatively few glitches.

This was followed up at Glastonbury 2013 almost a year later, billed as the first truly digital “Glasto”. For the first time then the BBC streamed six stages of live music simultaneously back from Glastonbury for distribution to tablets, laptops, PCs and smartphones, as well as the broadcaster’s connected red button, which was then a relatively popular feature for accessing alternative content on TVs over the air.

These six stages were filmed and mixed before being sent back via satellite to the BBC’s centre at White City in London. At that stage graphics were added and quality checks performed before the signals were transmitted online to the then relatively new MediaCity UK in Salford near Manchester, which had opened in 2011. The video was encoded there for distribution via the web, so from the outset streaming was handled as a parallel exercise to the usual linear broadcast, as at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Since then, broadband speeds have increased on both fixed and mobile networks, enabling users to receive streams at increasing quality as well as robustness. At the same time, connected devices have advanced greatly in their video capabilities, noting that top end smartphones such as the Sony Xperia Pro are now capable of showing 4K video at 2160 x 3840-pixel resolution, which is colossal on that device’s 6.5-inch screen. That is towards the top end of smartphone screen size and features OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology.

Far more people now access streams of events such as Glastonbury on smartphones, compared to that seminal 2013 event. That was evident even at the last physical Glastonbury of 2019, as can be seen from a snapshot of mobile data consumed at the event provided by EE. Mobile data transmitted at that event reached 103.6 TB, almost double the total of 2017, the 2018 event having been cancelled to allow the ground to recover. That was 1,000 times the 2010 total when the streaming was largely over 3G networks, not even 4G.

At that 2019 event EE installed a 5G network for the first time in what was then the largest temporary 5G network deployed. Yet relatively few users had 5G capable phones at that time, the first UK service having only been launched the previous month in May 2019, so the installation had only a negligible impact on data consumed directly over the mobile network.

But matters were not quite that simple because EE, recognizing the lack of 5G phones, had rigged up a WiFi network backhauled by its cellular infrastructure, and that did get quite heavily used.

Glastonbury 2020 was purely an online experience.

Glastonbury 2020 was purely an online experience.

It will be different this year with EE anticipating a substantial number of 5G users at the event accessing the temporary 5G network. Ironically, that may reduce the bit rates obtained because there will be more contention for the shared bandwidth. In 2019 at Glastonbury 5G speeds commonly ranged between 300 Mbps and 500 Mbps, more than users could exploit.

The BBC meanwhile will be extending features enabled via the iPlayer at 2022, such as its Watch Together rolled out for the virtual ‘Glastonbury Experience 2021’ collection of archive content. This provided an ideal trial run for the feature feeding just on content from previous years’ events, even if this therefore did not gain that much traction among fans. The ‘Watch with friends’ feature was designed for viewing such content in synchronization via a button shown on screen in the iPlayer under any programme from The Glastonbury Experience 2021.

Once clicked, an instigator sees a link to share with friends, rather like advertising a Zoom session. All participants can then play, pause and rewind sets in synchronization, although at that stage it lacked the ability of similar features from several OTT providers such as BT Sport and Sky Sports, of being able to see friends in screen windows, or otherwise interact with them. It was only possible to see how many friends were watching.

Rather than exotic XR features, the streaming coverage at Glastonbury will be judged more for its Ultra HD, especially 4K resolution and HDR (High Dynamic Range), which will be viewed on far more mobile and connected devices than before. The BBC was at the forefront of HDR development in particular with the efficient HLG (Hybrid-Log Gamma) format it co-developed with Japanese public broadcaster NHK, to enhance contrast with sharper more natural-looking colors. Indeed, the BBC was early to exhibit its 4K HDR combination in 2016 for the Blue Planet II series about wildlife in the oceans, presented and narrated by David Attenborough.

The BBC exhibited 4K and HDR on a large scale during two major sporting events of 2021, the Wimbledon tennis championships and the Euro 2020 football tournament, following up with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the latter two both delayed by a year because of the pandemic. This was streamed via the iPlayer and showed up quite well.

Certainly, in 4K terms, the BBC is well ahead of its UK rival broadcasters, such as ITV and Channel 4, which have struggled to get beyond full HD at 1080p, but in terms of content volumes at least has fallen behind the principle two pay TV services, notably Sky and BT, as well as the big streamers.

Indeed, there has been a sense that the BBC, for long at the cutting edge of various broadcast technologies, has fallen behind the curve and playing catch up with the big online streamers such as Netflix, Amazon and HBO, which are now able to outmuscle even the leading pubcasters financially. The ill-fated Britbox streaming joint venture the BBC launched with ITV in 2019 was a rather vain attempt to narrow that gap.

Nonetheless, the BBC is still a significant force in streaming and UHD, and this year’s Glastonbury will be a major stage for the corporation to show that it still has a strong hand to play. For now, it is keeping its cards close to its chest.

You might also like...

Linear vs D2C: The Future Of Sports Media & Fan Engagement - Part 2

Our sports media COO featured in this article continues to reflect on how the D2C business opportunity drives their decisions about where content is made available, how content is created and produced for different audiences, and how the “D2C…

Linear vs D2C: The Future Of Sports Media & Fan Engagement - Part 1

This is a story about the COO of a media business, that shines a light on the thinking underway at the leading edge of the media industry, where the balance shift from Linear Broadcasting to D2C Streaming is firmly…

NAB22 BEIT Sessions: ATSC 3.0, Web 3.0, And The Metaverse

What we’ve seen as ATSC 3.0 deploys and develops is just the tip of the NextGen TV iceberg.

The Evolving Landscape Of NextGen TV At The NAB 22 BEIT Sessions

Broadcasters are experimenting with many new TV business models to monetize new NextGen TV technologies.

Synamedia Buys Utelly For Aggregated Content Discovery Across Streaming Services

Synamedia, the London-headquartered video services and technology company spun out of Cisco in 2018, has acquired UK content discovery firm Utelly to beef up its offering for aggregated search, navigation, and recommendation.