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Sky hit by technical problems during world boxing unification fight

The difficulty of staging one-off pay-per-view events and coping with unpredictable levels of demand was highlighted by Sky's recent coverage of the recent world boxing fight between the UK's David Haye's and Wladimir Klitschko from the Ukraine, held in Hamburg, Germany. The issue was not with the transmission itself over satellite, but with the telephone and online reservation system, which was overwhelmed by a surge of late bookings for the fight during the Saturday evening of July 2.

To some extent, Sky had anticipated the problem ahead of the fight, which had been eagerly anticipated and was the first major heavyweight contest in several years between two boxers coming in on long unbeaten runs. Sky had been urging people to book early for the pay-per-view showing, costing £14.95 ($23), but in the event many decided to watch at the last minute. But that is in the nature of pay per view, which is supposed to encourage impulse viewing to generate extra revenues, and Sky is now reviewing its online booking system to avoid a repeat of the fiasco. The result was lost revenue and reputation, although the latter was dwarfed by the impact of the phone hacking scandal enveloping its parent company News Corporation, leading to the closure of the UK's Sunday newspaper, "News of the World." That move was made partly in the hope of limiting collateral reputational damage to Sky in the UK, which is the country's dominant pay TV operator with around 10 million subscribers, compared with 4 million for the number two, cable operator Virgin Media.

The problems with Sky's pay-per-view reservation system also highlight the need to plan capacity carefully for OTT services providing access to popular live events. There have already been signs that OTT, too, can be brought to its knees by mass streaming events, for example during the football World Cup of 2010. The remedy there is to deploy multicasting out to the edge of the network and make use of CDNs to bypass congested shared infrastructure to plug the streams directly into local exchanges or even street cabinets. Adaptive streaming can help ensure smooth degradation of picture quality in the event of congestion but cannot by itself make up for lack of network bandwidth.