Sony Music and its digital agency AIS London adopted Google Cloud Platform services to handle popular boy band One Direction’s 1D Day event, a seven-hour live stream that drew 772,000 concurrent viewers, 10.7 million playbacks and 15 million mentions on social media sites.
To capitalise on the One Direction Day livestream event, on YouTube on 23 November 2013, Sony Music London also built a companion “second screen” app to engage fans.
A 1D Day Quiz app also allowed fans to see multiple-choice questions about the band and what was happening in the live stream.
Sony submitted a new question every 10 minutes and displayed a running total of the fans’ correct answers. It also awarded badges to fans for answering questions correctly. The app also included social network feeds with updates from the live stream.
All these features prompted quick spikes in traffic. “We knew from past experience the strain that One Direction fans can place on sites and services,” said Nadia Themistocleous, Sony Music digital marketing manager in a guest blog post on Google’s official cloud blog.
But Sony Music and AIS London had less than three weeks to build a scalable and responsive app that could cope with traffic spikes. They decided to use cloud computing services to meet the unprecedented pressure on the backend infrastructure.
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“Syco Music [owned by Simon Cowell] consistently uses technology to deepen our relationship and conversation with our fans,” Genevieve Ampaduh, head of digital marketing at Sony Music said. “We wanted fans to experience 1D Day as a fully interactive experience. The Google Hangouts, augmented reality rewards and 1D Day app were all ways fans could get involved with the show as it played out live.”
Given the size of the One Direction's fan base, it was crucial the app was powered by a cloud service, Ampaduh said.
Sony also wanted to capture, store and provide live access to data about fans using the app, plus their locations and demographics.
Scaling with App Engine for success
For the IT team, scalability of the new app was crucial to its success. The development team knew that, during the seven hours of 1D Day, the traffic load might shoot from a few hundred queries per second (QPS) to several thousand or higher.
“We needed a platform we could trust 100% not to crumble under repeated traffic spikes,” said James Bartram, AIS business development director.
The team also picked Google App Engine, Google’s platform as a service offering. App Engine is a development stack that allows IT to build and host applications on the same infrastructure that Google uses.
The App Engine eliminates some system administration and developmental tasks to make it easier to write scalable applications. As enterprise’s app fluctuates in usage, it adjusts the systems so users don’t see errors.
“The scalability of the Google App Engine solution was invaluable. It also gave us confidence that we had an excellent user experience we could maintain throughout the campaign,” said Bartram.
App Engine dramatically improved developer productivity by eliminating the need to write boilerplate code and by handling scaling automatically, according to AIS.
We were thrilled with the number of fans who chose to play along with the 1D Day and the fact there were no technical difficulties
Genevieve Ampaduh, Sony Music
These features were key factors in developing the 1D Day Quiz app, given the short lead time. “By condensing the development timeline, we were able to front-load our design and UX phases to deliver a higher-level design,” Bartram said.
The team picked other cloud-based services that were compatible with Google App Engine. Working with Google, AIS wrote the app using PHP, its standard scripting language. The team also decided to use Google Cloud Datastore to support the anticipated high traffic volume. It also chose to use dedicated Memcache, to store statistical data in buckets and relieve any pressure on the Datastore.
The preparations to build an agile, scalable app paid off on 1D Day, when fans discovered the app’s URL a few hours earlier than intended, said Themistocleous. Fans shared the URL on social media, igniting an explosion of site traffic before the event even started.
The app team was ready to provision for this early traffic spike through the App Engine admin console. Four hours into the event, an announcement about the app on the live stream caused a 12-times increase in queries per second (QPS).
“1D Day was the biggest music live-stream ever held on YouTube,” Themistocleous said.
It drew 772,000 concurrent viewers and 10.7 million playbacks. The Second Screen app served 630,000 unique visitors in just 10 hours, with traffic peaking at 9,000 QPS – well within the planned capacity.
“Thanks to the cloud service’s ability to scale, we knew the app would work under heavy loads.”
“We were thrilled with the number of fans who chose to play along with the 1D Day and the fact there were no technical difficulties,” Ampaduh said. “It’s hard to imagine that this app would have been possible, so quickly, without Google App Engine.”