NEWS TECHNOLOGY

Why The VGTRK Video Service Was Not Ready For The Broadcast Of Euro 2020

During the final match of Euro 2020 between Italy and England, the VGTRK “Look” service had problems with broadcasting. Many “Look” users complained about the platform’s app on social media. Almost a week later, the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company did not comment on the disruptions in the work of “Look”, and the advertisers of the platform, as Forbes found out, “did not count” on its coverage.

On Sunday, July 11, the final match of Euro 2020 between the national football teams of Italy and England took place. The pleasure of watching the game for Russian fans was spoiled by problems with the broadcast on the VGTRK service “Look” – the video was interrupted several times a minute. The spectators of the match actively expressed their dissatisfaction on Facebook and VKontakte.

“It hangs and crashes,” “I almost broke the TV remote control,” wrote Facebook users under one of the numerous posts about technical problems on the side of smotrim.ru. Why was the VGTRK platform not ready to show the main sporting event of 2021?

Less Than 1%

The streaming service “Look” belongs to the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK); it was launched in November 2020. The platform is a content aggregator for the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company and includes an online cinema, live television and radio broadcasting, and an information portal. “Look” works on a desktop, and the platform application can also be downloaded for mobile devices on iOS and Android. 

At the briefing on the platform’s launch, the new product was presented by the first deputy general director of VGTRK, Anton Zlatopolsky, and deputy general directors – Alexander Nechaev and Andrey Klass. Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote regarding Zlatopolsky, Nechaev and Klass that “they worked on the new digital platform very carefully and for a long time, did tests, conducted focus groups.”

On the “Look” website, there is no information about the top management and the head of the service. Anton Zlatopolsky and the press service of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company did not respond to a request from Forbes.

In 2020, the total revenue of legal online video services in Russia grew by 52% and amounted to 38.9 billion, according to research company Telecom Daily. The study does not consider the service “Look” because its market share is noticeably less than 1%, Telecom Daily CEO Denis Kuskov told Forbes. The creation of the platform and the monthly support of the Kuskov service is estimated at hundreds of millions of rubles.

Which TV channels will broadcast Euro 2020, it became known in the fall of 2019. All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) divided the screenings of the games together with Channel One and Match TV; the TV channels showed 17 games each. The “Look” service received a license to broadcast matches through the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company and broadcast them simultaneously with the TV channel – exclusively among Russian Internet sites.

Euro 2020 was supposed to take place last summer. Still, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the matches were postponed for a year – the games began on June 11, 2021, in several European cities, including St. Petersburg.

Although social media users have noted problems with the broadcast on “Look” since the 1/8 finals, discontent reached its climax during the final game on July 11 between the national teams of Italy and England. “As a result, the rating of the app “Look” in the Google store has already dropped to 2 points due to a thousand curses.

The App Store still holds 4 points, but the last couple of hundred reviews are colas and deuces,” wrote Ksenia Boletskaya, Director of Industry Relations at Yandex, in her Telegram channel the next day after the game. At the time of this writing, the “Watch” rating in the Google Play app store was 1.2 points, and in the App Store – 4 points. 

Crashes And Accidents

The “Look” service could have been subjected to a DDOS attack, which led to disruptions in its work, suggests Igor Bederov, an expert at the SafeNet engineering center of the National Technological Initiative (NTI). Among other probable reasons for the failure of the service, Bederov calls for a large user load on the eve of the critical matches of Euro 2020, overheating of server equipment, power failures or data transmission, and accidents.

A representative of the largest CDN provider in Russia, CDNvideo, a partner of Look, told Forbes that the service was not subjected to a DDoS attack during the broadcast of Euro 2020 matches. The CDN provider provides a geographically distributed infrastructure that allows you to deliver content to the user on the Internet quickly. CDNvideo declined to comment further.

With problems with the translation of English football in 2019 faced and the Okko service, which belonged to Rambler Group (now it is part of Sberbank). Officially, the company attributed the failures to the instability of the Internet channel on the viewer’s side or an outdated version of the Okko app on the device. A former Rambler employee told Forbes that Okko users had difficulty accessing matches for two reasons.

The first time, the problem was on Okko’s side, he said. “We launched the first game, thought everything was fine, and decided to add more marketing. Since we had not been in battle yet until we figured out what happened, it took an hour and a half or two; by and large, it was a human factor,” he said. 

The second accident was on the conscience of a foreign supplier of “hardware” for video encoding: “we found a mistake in it that” fired “only here,” the source told Forbes. According to him, “Some events (sports and cultural mega-events, direct lines) cause real excitement and are accompanied by sharp jumps in user requests, exceeding the daily average by three or more times,” says Konstantin Chumachenko, CEO of CDN service Nginx. It is impossible to predict the scale of growth in advance – because of this; the infrastructure must be scaled “in reserve” to serve the largest possible peak of requests, he adds.

According to Chumachenko, in preparation for such a broadcast, companies should invest in purchasing equipment, load balancing technologies, and deploy additional capacities in different parts of the country. “But after the end of the event, this additional infrastructure will be idle, which makes it difficult to return on investment. Therefore, for a streaming platform, preparation for a significant event is a search for a compromise between the desire to play it safe in technical terms and economic efficiency,” the expert noted.

Inappropriate Spending

“Look” is a free service that makes money on advertising. VTB, Raiffeisenbank, MTS, Sovcombank, the largest bookmaker Fonbet, TikTok, the booking service Booking.com, Heineken and Bork acted as advertisers for the Euro 2020 matches. 

One of the advertisers told Forbes that he, like other clients of the service, is “upset with the current situation” but most likely will not demand compensation and expects that “VGTRK will improve its platform to avoid such situations in the future.” 

For Euro 2020, Raiffeisenbank created a unique “adapted” commercial, which was placed exclusively in the broadcasts of matches, Mikhail Zurov, head of marketing communications at Raiffeisenbank, told Forbes. The primary coverage for Raiffeisen’s advertising was made up of television broadcasts and placement on TV – within the framework of Euro 2020, the company was satisfied, Zubov said. Raiffeisen received a bonus on the streaming service Look and “did not count on it in terms of coverage,” he added.

Representatives of MTS, Fonbet, Heineken, and Sovcombank refrained from commenting. Representatives of TikTok, VTB and Bork, did not respond to the request.

VGTRK could spend budgetary funds on the platform; in this case, it is appropriate to talk about inappropriate spending of budget funds / Its signs say Yaroslav Shitsle, head of the IT & IP dispute resolution department of the Rustam Kurmaev & Partners law firm. At a minimum, the broadcast customer, the state, can ask for a refund for the broadcast that did not take place, the lawyer says.

According to him, “Look” may not return the payment to the customer only if it proves that the service was not provided for reasons beyond his control. If the service refuses to return money for an unproven service, law enforcement agencies or the Accounts Chamber may check the resources of “Look” to determine whether the service could conduct this kind of broadcast.

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