SUNNINGHILL, South Africa, Sept. 17, 2001 — Is Big Brother watching you? For viewers in South Africa, the tables are being turned. Using the Microsoft Windows Media Player technology, viewers are the ones watching “Big Brother,” the local version of the global reality-TV hit, live via the Internet. Approximately 1.3 million South African households watch the show, and 17.6 million page visits have already been recorded on the Big Brother Web site since the show began in late August.
The series in South Africa is the most recent incarnation of the Big Brother phenomenon. In 2000, Big Brother traveled to Germany, Spain, the U.S., the UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden and Belgium. This year, there have already been Big Brothers in Germany (3rd series), Portugal (2nd series), Denmark, Norway, Poland, Argentina, Australia and now, South Africa. All in all, 27 Big Brothers have been produced so far.
Viewers can “visit” the Big Brother house on the Internet during the course of the show. This is enabled by live video streaming from the house to the Big Brother Web site, using Microsofts Windows Media Player technology. The Microsoft Big Brother streaming solution is one of the most demanding Web-based applications yet devised, and 1.7 million Web streams from the house have already been used.
In July, M-Net, which broadcasts the show in South Africa, approached Microsoft for a reliable, scalable technology solution that would enable constant, ubiquitous Internet coverage of the Big Brother contestants. The Big Brother producers required quality video and audio feeds with second-by-second live action to be carried to every part of South Africa as well as internationally, 24 hours a day. Instant access and high audio and video quality had to be achieved — even considering the slow modem speeds available to most South Africans. This made for a substantial challenge. A technically sophisticated multi-casting solution was rapidly implemented.
The solution enables Internet access across various browser systems, while Windows Media Player is available for a range of operating systems. High levels of interactivity and customization allow users to personalize their experience. For example, site visitors can select cameras of choice, whether inside or outside the Big Brother house. The satellite feed is also carried through to New York for transmission to viewers in the United States. International hits often outnumber local site traffic, considering Big Brother’s global popularity.
“The level of technical specification demanded by the Big Brother project is, in effect, the most challenging proving ground yet for Microsofts Windows Media Player technology within the South African market,” says Glenn Kieser, manager of Infrastructure Consulting at Microsoft South Africa. “‘Big Brother’ will contribute to a much greater appreciation of the potential of Media Player technology.”
The system was tested and ready for use by early August, after an implementation period of five days. The Microsoft Services and Solutions Group (MSSG) added value by determining the hardware specifications, and providing advice on architecture and technology while giving best practice recommendations for optimum performance. At the high end, the quality achieved is comparable to CNN Internet telecasts or FM stereo radio audio-streaming.
“Microsoft provided world-class technology and assistance at pace,” says Willie Visser, general manager of Information Systems at M-Net. “The availability through MSSG of quality personnel with a high level of technical competence also contributed to the overall success of a technically challenging and exciting project.”
The Big Brother solution showcases the impact that widely distributed Web-based applications can have on our lives by empowering people with information any time, any place, on any device.