London 2012 saw Britain access more digital data than ever before

Games spectators broke their own record as they streamed video to watch and re-watch Olympic action

Sixty years ago, the coronation gathered the nation around televisions for the first time. To watch the 2012 Olympics it was to digital screens that Britain flocked – and none is gaining in popularity as fast as the mobile phone.

The amount of video and other internet content carried on Britain’s mobile networks during the Games surpassed all records. In what the BBC is dubbing the first “mobile Olympics”, Bradley Wiggins’s cycling gold saw more data carried over Vodafone’s network per second than during past peaks marked by the Royal Wedding and New Year’s Eve 2011.

When Usain Bolt became the first Olympian to retain both his sprint titles by winning the 200m, he also made digital history. According to Twitter, the Jamaican’s second 2012 win generated the most attention paid to any athlete during the games, with 80,000 tweets per minute.

And those who were not commenting watched again. In the moments after the 20 second race, viewers replayed the action instantly on their handsets, causing Vodafone to use more data to stream video than at any previous time.

Traffic rose by 25% on the busiest days, and on Saturday 11 August, as Britain’s Mo Farah took gold and Jamaica demolished the USA in the men’s relay, the network served up enough data to stream video to one screen for 40 years.

“We saw more people streaming video on their mobiles than ever before,” said a Vodafone spokeswoman, “both watching events live and catching up with all the action they’d missed and in doing so, peak traffic times were medal-winning moments.”

The BBC reported that of the 106m requests for online Olympic video content received during the Games, 12m were from smartphones rather than desktop computers or tablets.

At weekends, as viewers left their offices behind, 40% of browsers accessing the Olympics coverage, from schedules and medal tables to video clips, were from a mobile. The number is now almost on a par with desktop computers, where 47% of browsers were located. Smartphone browsing fell back on weekdays as workers returned to their desks, but remained substantial at 30%.

Tablets also formed a significant chunk of viewing, rising to 9% at weekends, while smart TVs with their own connection to the internet and Sony games consoles, which can stream live BBC sports, accounted for 4% of browsing.

“Consumption of video content on mobile has been perhaps the key takeaway from the two weeks,” said BBC sport executive Cait O’Riordan in a blog.

“People have their mobiles with them 24/7, and have been using our app and mobile site to keep up to date with the action wherever they are.”

Patterns of viewing are emerging, with different screens used at different times of day. For mobile, usage grows throughout the day, peaking at rush hour. Computers dominate the working day, while tablets are favoured in the evening as viewers curl up in bed to watch a final video of the day.

Up to 24 channels at any one time streamed BBC coverage to television sets through the red button and over the internet, but halfway through the first week traffic to the BBC’s website overtook red button viewing, with nearly 35m unique browsers.

“Our aspiration was that just as the coronation did for TV in 1953, the Olympics would do for digital in 2012,” said Phil Fearnley, of BBC future media. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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