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Fox Preps For The Super Bowl of Streaming

Concurrent Usage, Not Unique Viewers, The Main Concern Heading Into The Big Event 1/31/2014 4:42 PM Eastern

Fox Sports is expecting a big crowd this Sunday when consumers fire up their PCs and laptops to stream Fox’s live coverage of the Super Bowl matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, and believes it is has nailed up the capacity it will need to handle the anticipated load.

Fox Sports isn’t making any public predictions on how many consumers will tune in to watch those live streams, but it has some history to draw on: about 1 million people streamed NBC’s online coverage in 2012, and roughly 3 million tuned into CBS’s Super Bowl stream last year.

Clark Pierce, SVP of mobile and advanced platforms for Fox Sports, said this 43% increase in unique viewers is a nice number to know, but not the one Fox Sports and CDN partner Akamai are the most concerned about.

“The metric we’re most focused on is concurrent users,” he said. “That’s the number we’re prepared for.”  (See: Multicast and the ‘Super Bowl Problem’)

He declined to share how many unique streamers Fox is prepared to handle, but believes they’ve built in a range and enough headroom to handle a larger load driven by the fact that Fox will be offering Super Bowl feeds in English and Spanish (via FOX Deportes) online on Web browsers at www.FOXSportsGO.com, and, for the first time, on iPads via the Fox Sports Go app, which was launched last October.

One group Fox Sports won’t have to worry about is the 82,000-plus that pack MetLife Stadium on game day. The NFL is reportedly blocking access to Super Bowls streams on-site to ensure that there’s plenty of bandwidth to go around so fans can go nuts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.

To showcase and promote the app, Fox Sports Go will drop the authentication wall as part of a 27-hour “preview” running from Sunday, Feb. 2 at midnight ET through 3 a.m. ET Monday, Feb. 3. When the free period ends, only subscribers of MVPDs with Fox Sports TV Authentication rights will have access to the app, which provides live feeds of Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, and an evolving number of events and shows from Fox Sports.  As of Friday (Jan. 31), AT&T U-verse, MidcontinentCommunications, Cablevision Systems, Suddenlink Communications and Comcast were card-carrying members of the Fox Sports Go TV Everywhere club.

“This is really our coming out party,” Pierce said. Fox Sports wouldn’t say how many times the Fox Sports Go app has been downloaded, but Pierce said the app broke download records during Fox Sports’ streaming coverage of the earlier rounds of this year’s NFL playoffs.

Fox Sports Go will use adaptive bit rate techniques to deliver Super Bowl streams up to HD quality. It’s set up to deliver ABR video streaming profiles of up to 3 Mbps and as low as 100 kbps to PCs, and a range of 110 kbps to 4 Mbps via the iPad app.

Fox isn’t streaming the Super Bowl to iPhones, as Verizon has locked up the exclusive rights to stream the game to smartphones.

Fox Sports has not yet launched an app for the more fragmented Android platform, but it's working toward launching one sometime this year. “We’re focused on Apple because that’s where the majority of the tablet usage is, Pierce said.

Fox is also selling a separate inventory of ads for its live Super Bowl streams, and those slots were “virtually sold out” as of Thursday, Pierce said. “Our phone has been ringing quite a bit in the last few weeks.”

September