The BBC's Epic Glastonbury Coverage Shows How Live Events Should Be Done

By Chris Mills on at

Having pulled some stonking Olympics coverage out of the bag last year, the BBC's planning on capitalising on its experience for future live events, starting with Glastonbury this year. There are going to be more streams, on more platforms, with even more hyper-enthusiastic BBC presenters than you thought humanly possible -- and yes, even Android and Windows Phone users get some love.

On a weekend that'll already be choc-a-bloc with events -- the Silverstone GP and Wimbledon will be happening at the same time -- the BBC is pulling out all the stops, using the same kind of coverage as it employed for the Olympics in 2012.

That means seven live streams at any one time -- six from the stages, and one from a roving camera following DJs around and presumably doing hilarious interviews with coked-up festival-goers. In all, we'll be seeing more than 120 performances and 250 hours of coverage, which is a bit bonkers for one weekend of music.

Even though it's a music event -- and, therefore, more the purview of BBC Radio -- the coverage will be wonderfully digital. There are platforms for Smart TVs, laptops, tablets and smartphones, each with an interface neatly optimised, utilising the same excellent design language as found in BBC's current iPlayer offerings. (Fans of the new iPlayer Radio app, with its twirly discovery wheel, will be glad to know that's central to the Glasto experience.)

Since the mobile hub will be based on a web experience, it'll even work on Windows Phone devices -- though Blackberry only gets limited service, not the all-singing-all-dancing solution other platforms get. It shows where the BBC is going, though -- rather than building specific apps (like for the Olympics), it's concentrating on platforms that can be utilised for any event. The Glastonbury platform that the BBC have built will most likely be re-used for other events later this year like Reading and T in the Park. All that's amazing news for viewers -- no longer will ticketless fans have to resort to using a ladder to sneak in to get the full festival experience.

The one sad bit of news is that unlike the Olympics, where you could jump back to any point in a live stream and start watching from there, Glastonbury viewers will have to either watch live, or using standard iPlayer catchup (hard life, isn't it). That's a rights issue, not a technical problem, so hopefully we'll see that feature rolled out for other live events.

All in all, though, it's an encouraging time for the BBC's live coverage. At a time when mobile viewing of events is ramping up -- they reckon around 40 per cent of their Olympics coverage was watched mobile, and half of that over 3G -- they're pouring money into the smartphone and tablet platforms.

The demo Glastonbury interfaces we played with were excellent -- visually appealing, stupidly easy to browse, and with the emphasis on discovering content. One danger with a massive event like Glastonbury (and the two hundred and bleeing fifty hours of video) is that most of the stuff gets lost among the noise. The Beeb's working hard to combat that, though.

You can see evidence of this in the different versions of the iPlayer Radio app that've been rolled out: the iPhone app, while visually appealing, lacks good music discovery in-app; the Android app, launched a few months later, fixes that with better suggestions and an easier-to-navigate interface. Ultimately, though, the aim is to bring the level of service provided on both platforms to the same level -- the design teams work together, and it's only technical hitches that lead to differences between apps (like the lack of offline viewing on the iPlayer Android app).

Mobile isn't the only important platform, however. TV is obviously the BBC's home turf, and not one they're going to surrender willingly. The new 'Connected Red Button' interface they've rolled out proves it. Simply put, it's a tremendous service, leagues better than any other red button offering.

As a fairly frequent user of the Lovefilm and iPlayer apps on TV, I know how god-awful navigating services tends to be on a Smart TV, which is why so many people set up media centres or Apple TVs to do the same job. The 'Connected Red Button' service, which doesn't even require any app installation, is a major step forward. Simple navigation (and no typing in bloody characters one at a time using an on-screen keyboard like a numpty) makes using a TV to jump between different streams and snippets of video far more palatable.