Handling Video Traffic Spikes: In the Event of a Michael Jackson or LeBron James Exclusive


When you run a news site and you get your hands on a video that you know is going to be huge — potentially-breaking-your-site huge — what do you do? In two recent cases, companies turned to new video platform providers that promised they could handle the strain. And in both cases, they appear to have done just that.

Celeb mag Us Weekly last month gained possession of a video of Michael Jackson sustaining the burn injuries that would kick off his lifelong (and ostensibly life-ending) painkiller addiction. The previously unreleased footage from a would-be 1984 Pepsi commercial shows Jackson’s head catching fire when on-set pyrotechnics went off too early. Damage he sustained during the shoot required multiple skin grafts.

Us Weekly’s staff knew they had the video exclusively (they won’t say how they obtained it), and that it would get millions of views as soon as it went up. And they had already been talking to video management startup Ooyala about making a switch from Voxant/Grab Networks, part of a larger initiative to include more video from the site’s new web shows, red carpet events and other celebrity fare. So in a coincidence of timing, the Michael Jackson video was the first video they posted with Ooyala.

“It made us somewhat nervous, running for the first time ever with a video of that nature,” said Daniel Mandell, director of business development at Wenner Media, which publishes Us Weekly. “It was a dangerous time to test.”

In the 36 hours after securing the Michael Jackson footage, Us Weekly was able to cut the video down to a minute and 35 seconds, secure advertisers (the video was embeddable by any user, carrying with it a pre-roll ad), warn Ooyala — which used Akamai as its CDN — about the incoming load, and sync up with that week’s newsstand release. In the meantime, Ooyala readied its adaptive bitrate streaming to ensure that video views were uninterrupted by demand or bandwidth issues.

Soon after the clip was released on the morning of July 15, it became the most-watched video in Us Weekly’s history, with no delivery problems whatsoever, according to Mandell. The short video accumulated 150,000 hours of watching in the first 48 hours alone, for a total of 11 million views in July. That was by far the site’s best-trafficked video ever, and helped lead to a record-busting July overall, with 14.8 million uniques and 351 million page views.

Prepping for an onslaught of video views on short notice isn’t unique to celebrity sites. A remarkably similar set of circumstances took place a week later on eBaum Nation, a web ephemera site. In early July word got out that Xavier sophomore Jordan Crawford, participating at a LeBron James basketball camp, dunked on King James himself. Word also got out that Nike had confiscated footage of the incident immediately afterwards, claiming it broke camp media guidelines.

But then on July 22, TMZ announced that it had procured footage of the dunk, and would release it later that day. So the folks at eBaum rushed into action, because they had been offered an alternate (and they believed, better) video of the dunk in the weeks prior from a camp attendee whose footage from the rafters had not been confiscated. They quickly negotiated to purchase the video for $5,000 at about 2 p.m., and in less than two hours had it live on their site, beating TMZ.

Just prior to all this, eBaum had been talking to multiple CDNs, and had started a trial with up-and-comer BitGravity, said COO Jason Martorana. When eBaum got the clip, it cut over to BitGravity that same afternoon. “Nobody even came close both on price points and from a technical standpoint,” he told NewTeeVee. BitGravity took over delivery of the whole of eBaum within an hour.

By 4 p.m., eBaum traffic spiked to 15 Gbps, according to BitGravity CEO Perry Wu. The video exceeded 1 million views in three hours, and had 3 million views within 24 hours.

This wasn’t the largest single video BitGravity has ever hosted, said Wu, but it was the most viral.”It literally used our entire global network, every server around the globe.”

LeBron getting dunked on was instrumental in eBaum making a name for itself, as it was only founded earlier this year by the team behind the long-running site eBaum’s World after they were laid off by the site’s acquirer ZVUE. After the video was posted, eBaum was featured on Yahoo Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN and Diggnation, racking up more than 27 million page views in the ensuing three days. And the site never once went down.

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