I've said before that my two passions in life are politics (particularly LGBT flavored) and technology. Last night, there was a melding of those two passions that was unlike anything any of us have ever experienced. What was this magical marriage of politics, technology, and LGBT issues? Why, the HRC/LOGO Presidential Forum of course.
First, let me give props where they are due... HRC and LOGO put together a decent forum that was worthy of presidential participation. It's really too bad that many people who were interested in watching weren't able to actually do so.
Why would something as historic and unprecedented as having a bona fide presidential forum specific to LGBT issues be missed by so many interested people? Poor technology planning.
Let's look at what went wrong...
1. HRC and LOGO, which is an MTV-owned LGBT programming cable channel, were the sponsors of the debate. MTV is owned by Viacom, which used to own CBS until CBS spun off on it's own, so that's why you see them partnering with CBS News to cover the debate. (The point being, there were a lot of big companies and organizations behind this event.)
2. LOGO, a cable channel that is AVAILABLE (not watched) in only 27 million homes, had exclusive broadcast rights to the forum.
3. HRC and LOGO promoted the hell out of this forum generating interest across the country and even across the gay/straight divide. (Keeping in mind, the vast majority of the country doesn't get LOGO)
4. LOGO offered an online video stream of the debate for those of us not fortunate enough to have LOGO in our homes (in other words, the 90% of us who don't live in NYC, LA, SF or a few other select areas, had to watch online.)
Sounds like they've got it all covered, right? Wrong.
The online feed was plagued with issues throughout the debate. At times, the stream would just drop and I'd have to click to restart it. Other times, it came across like I was on a dialup connection at the North Pole, slipping, skipping, stuttering, and freezing. I switched from wireless to wired - I even plugged my computer directly into the cable modem! Same thing. I have heard stories far and wide of similar problems. In fact, I haven't found a single person who was able to watch the live online feed without major problems.
Folks, I've been doing networking for over 10 years and it's pretty clear to me that LOGO/Viacom/MTV was too damned cheap to pay for the bandwidth and server capacity necessary for the millions of us left out in the cold to watch this forum. The only limit to bandwidth and overall capacity for a stream is cost. Bandwidth is easily augmented in a streaming environment.
Live streams are handled differently than your YouTube type video content. Most live streams are contracted out to be delivered by a third party that specializes in that type of video distribution. I'd be surprised if LOGO didn't do the same. If they did, they should get their money back. Any live streaming specialist worth their salt would be able to judge the bandwidth necessary for this event, double it, then have backup capacity available if that still isn't enough. You only pay for what you use, so having extra available isn't really a problem.
The other option here is to reduce the size and/or quality of the video in the stream to reduce the bandwidth necessary to transmit it. I have to say, the parts I saw live were vivid and crystal clear, but what good is that quality when I can't understand what's being said because of the stuttering and stammering caused by the crappy connection? I think they could have cut down their bandwidth requirements considerably by reducing the video quality and shrinking the size by about 25%.
That's the problem with old media companies trying to play cool in the new media market. They just shoot themselves in the foot because they don't have a clue. Between MTV, LOGO, Viacom, and CBS News, I'd think someone could have ponied up the cash (or bought the expertise or whatever the actual problem was) to make sure that this event went off without a hitch. It's not like it was history making presidential politics or anything.
Oh wait, it was.