What the Olympics can teach us about Web Performance

The 2016 Olympic games serve as a prime example of how viewership has shifted from cable to Internet streaming, and how this effects ratings. This change has been fueled by millennials who have begun "cutting the cord" on cable, in favor of monthly streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

Emil Simeonov

Emil is a Marketing and SEO Expert at Constellix. If you found our site online, you can thank him for getting you there.



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What the Olympics can teach us about Web Performance

August 15, 2016

The 2016 Olympic games serve as a prime example of how viewership has shifted from cable to Internet streaming, and how this effects ratings. This change has been fueled by millennials who have begun "cutting the cord" on cable, in favor of monthly streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Cable giants like NBC, CBS, and ABC have launched their own versions, offering onDemand content for a monthly fee. Cord-cutters have been forced to subscribe to NBC's streaming service, or risk missing out on all the action. In the end, we have attributed to this cord-cutting movement to the growth of people streaming the Olympics.But the biggest question in all of this is how well are these online streaming services working under the pressure of millions of live viewers? We decided to take a look at the daily average response times (in milliseconds) of NBC's online streaming service and their Olympics site, using Constellix Sonar monitoring checks.

NBC's Streaming Performance

Day 4 of the Olympic games showed a consistent increase in response times, due to the women’s gymnastics team competition. The event alone boasted one of the largest streaming audiences ever seen, peaking at 1.35 million viewers. NA East saw the highest response times and seemed to slightly recover the following day, but then was down for the remainder of the week. NA East and NA Central seemed to fall short on the majority crucial days, which must have been problematic for NBC as both regions boast high viewerships.We also found that NBC Streaming struggled the most on Days 5 and 7, when both NA East and NA Central were down. We attributed these struggles to which games were playing those days: Day 5 featured important swimming matches where Katie Ledecky took home the gold, and Michael Phelps faced off against Ryan Lochte. Day 7 also played host to two more big matches: Ledecky won another gold and Phelps competed in his allegedly final individual race of his Olympic career.Not surprisingly, all regions struggled on Day 8, which played host to Phelp's final Olympic event and took home his 23rd gold medal. Day 8 also boasted the highest ratings for Rio Olympic games thus far, peaking at 26.8 million viewers. However, these ratings were still down from the comparable night at 2012's London games, which peaked at 28 million.

nbc stream chart olympics

Actually, ratings altogether seemed to fall short of both the London and Beijing games. According to the Wall Street Journal,

NBC is averaging 27.9 million for the first nine nights, down about 15.5% from the London Olympics, which finished with an average of 33 million viewers. The Games are also off from the 34.2 million viewers the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing averaged.

The decline in viewership begs the question, where did all of these viewers go? Our first inclination was to point the finger at streaming services, but according to CNN Money the streaming audiences aren't popular enough to have that great of an effect. The culprit could be the “onDemand” generation’s fault. Who watches anything live now? It’s all about looking for highlight reels, best of clips, or recaps. Most people go to their favorite social network or video service like YouTube to catch these clips.Overall, NBC's streaming site seemed to suffer the most on high viewership nights, even incurring outages in multiple regions. As we enter the final week of the Olympic games, we hope that NBC is able to reconcile these issues for the next high traffic events.

NBC Olympics Site Performance

NBC created a site just for catching up on the Olympics with breaking news stories, video clips, and exclusive interviews with the Olympic athletes. We decided to monitor this site too, to see how NBC would handle the challenges of traffic surges over the first few days of the games.Before we even began monitoring we knew that response times would be pretty messy, with spikes on high traffic days, and even regional outages. This was further supported when we took a look at the site's Alexa ranking which held the #1,172 spot in the world. What was most interesting was that the site had previously been ranked at #212,484 just last month. That's a huge jump in traffic that can be difficult to prepare for, even with four years to do it. Not to mention, their parent site NBC.com is only ranked #2,121 in the world, so they most likely were lacking in the necessary infrastructure to keep up with this summer's demands.

nbc olympics chart

Day 5 saw slowed response times, most likely due to the high density of popular events that day such as: Ledecky took home her fourth medal of the games, gymnastics sensation Kohei Uchimura won gold for the all-around title, Michael Phelps raced Ryan Lochte, and Carmelo Anthony set basketball world records.Surprisingly only Asia and NA East seemed to struggle on Day 8, which troubled NBC's streaming site across the globe.

Conclusion

While revenue has yet to be announced for NBC during the games, we can assume that numbers will likely be down from both Beijing and London, due to weak viewership ratings. This begs the question, did the outages and slow-downs affect viewership and revenue? And could NBC have seen a greater ROI if they had invested more in optimizing their infrastructure and streaming services? NBC spent a whopping $1.23 billion to air the Olympics this year, but how much did they invest in their online infrastructure? It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the remaining week of the games.While your organization or website may never see numbers like NBC, it's important to analyze the issues that these larger companies face, and how they deal with them.

streaming performance, olympics
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