Planning the digital marathon


Ben Darby TV-Bay Magazine
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Never one for New Year's resolutions, I made the 2013 Virgin London Marathon one to finally commit to. So once I'd put in the training and mentally prepared for the greatest marathon on Earth, I started to explore new ways in which I could share my experience with friends, family and the public in a different way.
It's certainly inherent within the nature of my job to look for ways in which I can utilise technology and find a digital solution for unusual or exceptional circumstances. But this wasn't a standard marketing or PR stunt, this was running 26.2 miles, a challenge big enough in itself.
The concept was simple, I'd look to better the Virgin London Marathon's runner tracker system (which is driven by runner chip signals at each mile marker), with a full HQ video stream of my entire marathon run. Covering my challenge from start to finish, through the highs and the lows. It had never been done before and I was certain I had access to the right technology to help me do it.
The technical challenge
The output platform choice was simple – as a streaming sponsor, StreamUK could provide the StreamMP player which had previously been used for marathons but in a slightly different way. The player simply streamed the finish line and enabled participants to find the moment they crossed the line and time-capture-share on social media. The solution in my case was far different – and multi-bitrate streaming and delivery to mobile devices was essential for those tuning into my marathon on different devices, all over the globe.
I was concerned that the hardware would be the trickiest part, as ideally I'd want to carry as little weight as possible. I'd chosen the GoPro black edition for the camera and was speaking with Garland Partners to find the best 4G wireless solution. A month before the race it was clear that the LiveU LU40 with 3x3G modems and 1x4G would work best, as we anticipated that despite the 500,000 extra people in London that day, we wouldn't experience any connection dropout, as the extra 4G channel would support the stream.
The GoPro was fully compatible with the LU40's HDMI output and the unit itself came in at only 1 KG, but this only included one battery. Planning to run the marathon with a PB mile time and complete within 4 hours, I was still 30mins short of the battery life expectancy. So I had two options; either run faster and complete the marathon in a more than respectable time (almost professional) – or carry another battery. By this point Garland Partners were exploring other external power options with LiveU whilst trying to limit the overall weight of my equipment.
The media rights challenge
Becoming so engrossed in the technical challenge ahead, I fully neglected what could potentially be the more difficult obstacle of my digital marathon, which was obtaining the approval and support of my charity (CLIC Sargent) and the Virgin London Marathon organisers. The charity were fully behind the idea and said they'd support it fully, matched by the JustGiving charity donation website, who's technical team were looking to integrate a LIVE and bespoke payment system within the StreamMP player, to enable easy and quick donations as I ran the 26.2 miles.
But the Virgin London Marathon was not as excited - concerned about the LIVE stream conflicting with the BBC's broadcast rights for the event. So unfortunately despite lots of communication with the VLM media department and hours spent revisiting my Media Law study books from University, it became to big a challenge to fulfil within the timeframe available.
However, it didn't stop me exploring the technology in place and what could be possible for the future coverage of the World's greatest marathon. With the relentless momentum of 4G and our desire to become independent UGC pioneers, it's really only a matter of time before public sporting events give in to the flurry of participants taking advantage of the technology available - to share an incredible experience and personal triumph with friends, family and wider digital communities.
Ben finished the 2013 Virgin London Marathon in 4hrs 30mins, raising £1,823.32 for the children's cancer charity CLIC Sargent. If you would like to donate please visit www.justgiving.com/bendarby

Tags: iss077 | virgin london marathon | stream uk | digital marathon | live streaming | stream MP | HQ video stream | coverage | Ben Darby
Contributing Author Ben Darby

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