HITS Daily Double
“AOL’s coverage may one day serve as a historical marker in drawing people to computers instead of TV screens for big events.”
——from an AP story


Media Hail Coverage as a Logistical Triumph and a New Chapter in the History of the Internet
“Concert Video Is a Hit, Validating a Bet by AOL,” proclaimed a headline in The New York Times. Those words summed up the media’s collective assessment of the groundbreaking coverage of the global event by America Online. There’s little doubt that the July 2 extravaganza was by far the biggest Internet event in history,” as AOL executive Ruth Sarfaty offered.

“For the ultimate viewing experience, you needed America Online,” said the Associated Press. “Television seemed shockingly old-fashioned during Saturday’s worldwide concert for poverty relief. AOL’s coverage was so superior, it may one day serve as a historical marker in drawing people to computers instead of TV screens for big events.

“With a click of the mouse, AOL visitors could jump from a video feed of the London concert to one from Philadelphia, Berlin or Rome,” the AP story continued. “The performances were shown in their entirety. AOL programming chief Bill Wilson claimed that 160,000 people were simultaneously viewing the video streams at any given time, and that more than 5 million people sampled the video at some point during the day… It was utterly addictive. It tied the event together and gave fans a reason to stay glued to their computers.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer praised AOL’s marketing savvy for having “bought the rights to Live 8 and resold them to TV and radio… Some packaged highlights of the concerts into specials for later viewing. But only the Internet made you feel as if you were there.”

The N.Y. Times story pointed out that AOL’s coverage was a logistical feat of the first order. “Supplying free coverage of the event to anyone who wanted it—and without a lot of glitches—was no easy feat,” wrote reporter Roben Farzad. “After buying broadcast rights from the Live 8 trust for an amount it would not disclose, AOL had to gear up for something akin to a network broadcast of the Super Bowl or the Olympics. That meant posting a crew with a satellite uplink at each of the 10 concert locations and assigning a crew in Los Angeles to collect and process the reams of data coming in from around the world. (AOL also had television and radio broadcast rights to the concerts, which it resold to MTV and other outlets.) After the color and sound of the video feeds was adjusted, the footage was encoded and sent to servers throughout the United States and Europe, which fed live streams to viewers' computers.”

According to AOL, the number of simultaneous video streams, which ranged as high as 175,000 at certain points, broke the previous online record, which had been set in February during global coverage of Chinese New Year celebration. AOL acknowledged that it was delighted to find the audience continuing to grow throughout the day.

Wilson called the event “a defining moment for the medium—a tipping point.” Score a decisive win for the company as it continues its metamorphosis from a subscriber-based “walled garden” to a free, advertiser-supported portal.