[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on 7/16/2012, has since captured national attention and was recently mentioned on NPR. Listen to the NPR story about how Elemental is using NVIDIA GPUs to stream the 2012 London Olympic Games.]
This year’s summer Olympics will mark the third time London hosts the modern games, making it the first city to do so. But there’s another first in the works that will be felt well beyond Britain. For the first time, hundreds of millions of people will watch the Olympics on their smartphones and tablets.
They’ll be beamed to the smallest screens in the smallest corners of the world – thanks, in part, to Elemental Technologies, a six-year-old Portland-based startup, and its innovative use of NVIDIA GPUs.
Elemental, a pioneer in using GPUs to power video streaming over IP networks, will provide the back-end infrastructure to live stream the games to set-top boxes, PCs, smartphones and tablets. Major broadcasters in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan, Europe and Latin America are using technology from Elemental for the task.
And it’s an Olympic-sized challenge.
Seismic Shifts Between Games
Streaming video gained traction during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. NBCOlympics.com served up 75.5 million streams, the BBC served 40 million and China’s CCTV served 100 million. But four years is an eon in the technology industry, and seismic shifts having occurred in the media space. New players with new business models have cropped up. Primetime TV has been replaced by time-shifted TV. And traditional broadcasters have responded by expanding their digital offerings. In this climate, Elemental expects streaming numbers to explode.
What’s more, back in 2008, what we think of as modern mobile computing had barely gotten out of the starting blocks. The iPhone had just launched a year earlier. The iPad didn’t see the light of day until 2010, Android media tablets the following year.
But mobile computing is moving at a headlong sprint. Some 725 million smartphones and 70 million tablets were in use at year-end 2011, according to industry analyst firm Gartner, numbers that continue to climb. In addition to untethering the London Games from the living room, mobile devices will act for many as the so-called “second screen” they turn to for stats and replays as they take in the event on larger displays.
A Billion Viewers
When it’s all said and done, Elemental expects up to a billion viewers of its streaming content. In addition to more than 2,500 hours of live coverage, the company will encode and archive video for on-demand highlights and other assets for time-shifted viewing.
These numbers spell complexity. They involve a wide variety of use cases, video codecs, resolutions, screen sizes and other specifications. As the engines powering Elemental’s streaming service, NVIDIA GPUs will help transform that complexity into a great viewing experience.
How You Watch in Your Own Hands
Elemental selected NVIDIA for the same reasons that our GPUs stand out in other markets. From gaming to geoscience, NVIDIA GPUs offer an unmatched combination of performance and energy efficiency. Using NVIDIA GPUs, Elemental can encode three times as many streams per server rack while drawing one-third the watts per stream. Such gains have put Elemental in a position to offer a solution at half its competitor’s footprint, power consumption and cost. The result: broadcasters around the world will be able to serve up high-quality streaming across video formats cost-effectively.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics was the most-watched event in history, drawing 4.7 billion viewers, according to Nielsen. This year, the world’s most popular event is poised to be the moment where mass media crosses into mobile media. Hundreds of millions of people will be watching. But where they are, and how they do so, will be entirely in their hands.