With American television unable to offset a massive time-zone gap, the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia is likely to draw more Internet users than any other event in the Web’s history, according to lead technology sponsor IBM.
Big Blue, which initially said it would get more than 1 billion hits, now estimates that its site will receive as many as 6.5 billion hits on the official Web site of the 2000 Games alone, Olympics.com, not counting other related sites.
According to published reports, IBM spokesman Craig Lowder predicts that the Sydney Olympics will draw 10 times the number of Web site hits as the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
“We expect the total number of hits on the official site will be 6.5 billion,” Lowder said. The Web site for the 1996 Summer Olympics, held in Atlanta, Georgia, drew 187 million Internet visitors. Still, Lowder said, IBM is ready.
“It is the same hosting infrastructure that has been developed since Nagano and used very successfully at other events such as Wimbledon,” Lowder said.
Web Trumps TV
In addition to a recent explosion in Web use across the globe, the main reason for the expected growth in visitors is the time gap between Australia, where the Games are being held for the first time since 1956, and the United States and Europe, where the bulk of traditional Olympic viewers are located.
New York, for instance, is 15 hours behind Sydney, and London is 11 hours behind.
Time-zone difficulties were blamed on poor television ratings following the Nagano Games, which many critics and viewers said lacked drama because events were videotaped and shown later, when many people already knew the outcome.
The past year has seen the Internet log a number of superlative milestones. This summer, the release of the fourth book in the wildly popular Harry Potter series resulted in the largest distribution day of a single product sold online.
Last December, in what was then called the largest single Internet transaction ever, a Yahoo! executive paid $40 million (US$) to buy a Gulfstream jet online.
Still, past mega-events have also been marked by server crashes and frustrated users. Late last year, a record 3 million people listened over the Web as Paul McCartney played songs from his new album in the Liverpool, England club where the Beatles got their start. However, many complained about the poor image and sound quality of the feed.
Also, a planned online fashion show by lingerie company Victoria’s Secret, heavily promoted with advertising during the Super Bowl in January 1999, was doomed when an overload of hits brought its servers down just as that event was about to begin.
All the same, IBM is confident its Olympic site can withstand all the hits the Internet world can dish out. The firm has set up several related sites, including one that will allow fans to e-mail any of the more than 10,000 athletes competing in the Games, an interactive page for kids, and sites containing travel information to the Games in a host of foreign languages.