In 2002, the reality television landscape in Hungary was forever changed with the launch of the first Big Brother show. As the co-founder of Sense/Net, the company responsible for the live streaming of the show, I had the unique opportunity to witness the birth of online broadcasting in Hungary. Note that all this happened 3 years before YouTube was even launched. In this blog post, I want to take you back to those exciting times and share the challenges we faced, the record-breaking success we achieved, and the sheer determination of our team to save the show in just 24 hours.
Reality shows were still a relatively new concept in Hungary when TV2 decided to bring the Big Brother format to our screens, immediately dominating the charts. With the rise of broadband Internet, there was great potential for viewership on ADSL lines. However, the true magnitude of this phenomenon was difficult to predict, as we never encountered bandwidth issues during the online broadcast of the first local reality show, Bar by Viasat3.
"I vividly recall the surprise on the face of one of the ISP operators when I informed him at 5 PM that we needed to install a server with them by 9 o’clock. He initially misunderstood, thinking I meant 9 AM the next day. I pointed out that the server needs to be up and running that very day, which it did. The urgency and dedication of our team and partners left an indelible impression on everyone involved."
On the very first day of the Big Brother online broadcast, we encountered a system freeze as a result of an unprecedented influx of viewers. To be exact, it wasn't the servers that were overloaded, but rather the network of the Internet Service Provider. The remarkable volume of broadband viewers surpassed the total bandwidth capacity of the ISP towards the country's Internet exchange.
Our previous experience had taught us the importance of being prepared, so we knew we had to act swiftly to avoid a complete disaster. With just one day to fix the problem, our team sprang into action.
In a race against time, we decided to install multiple servers across various ISPs and the country’s Internet exchange center, too. Our engineers worked tirelessly, deploying the latest version of Windows Media Server and distributing the load strategically. This distributed setup allowed us to tap into the full potential of the one-gigabit Internet backbone. The online broadcast took up an incredible 700 megabits of this, meaning 70% of all the Internet traffic in the country.
Little did we know that our decision to use a beta version of Windows Media Services 9 for Big Brother would lead to an unexpected twist. This version, officially released only after the show launched, offered the vital features we needed to save the day. However, we encountered a bug that caused the server to crash under high loads. Harnessing our Microsoft Gold Certified Partner status, we swiftly sent a core dump to Microsoft in Redmond. Within an astonishing 24 hours, Microsoft's prompt response and expertise fixed the bug, allowing us to seamlessly continue the Big Brother broadcast. This episode serves as a testament to the value of working with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner companies, such as Sense/Net.
The success of the Big Brother online broadcast hinged on the agility and expertise of our engineers. With their dedicated efforts, they managed to resolve the bandwidth issue and get the show back on track within just 24 hours. It was a monumental task, requiring us to coordinate server installations with ISPs under immense time pressure. Our success would not have been possible without the invaluable support of the hardware suppliers, who expediently provided us with capable servers in less than 8 hours.
The launch of the Big Brother reality show in Hungary marked a significant turning point in the world of television and online broadcasting. As the co-founder of Sense/Net, I am proud to have been part of this groundbreaking experience. Our ability to overcome challenges and deliver a record-breaking online broadcast demonstrates the power of teamwork, determination, and a passion for innovation.
Looking back, that day of intense troubleshooting was a testament to the Sense/Net agile company culture. We embraced the challenge head-on and, against all odds, ensured the show went on - literally. It is a story that serves as a reminder of what can be accomplished when talented individuals come together to overcome obstacles and make history.