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The Making of TalkTalk X Factor TV Heads - a Case Study

The Making of TalkTalk X Factor TV Heads - a Case Study

Today's guest blog post was written by Stephen Wilson, the head of engineering for The App Business. The App Business is a specialist app software company based in London. They work with brands to help them create business-transforming technology experiences across smartphones, tablets, desktop, social media and even TVs - wherever the audience is.

TalkTalk X Factor - Redefining TV Sponsorship

We've all seen the show. And, love it or hate it, The X Factor continues to be the biggest series on Saturday night TV. Last year, in partnership with MPC, The App Business worked with CHI & Partners to produce the latest installment of U.K. teleco provider TalkTalk's three-year sponsorship of the show, and deliver their most technically challenging and innovative project to date. A Web and mobile experience that gave X Factor fans the chance to star in their very own music video. With all the tools provided, users could pick from a selection of hit tracks and music videos, bring them together and record their very own music production mash-up. The best of the productions could even star on TV’s biggest ad spot, during the X Factor itself.

Check-out the campaign video to see how it worked:


With CHI as the creative lead and MPC running the TV production, our challenge was to design and develop the Web platform, giving fans the opportunity to create their music video - via the Web, iOS or Facebook - and then view a high-quality video composition of it in real time.

...Oh, and we had the small matter of doing it all within 8 weeks.

Concepting, designing and building a product of this kind, in such a short turnaround, was never going to be easy, so we had to make sure our efforts were focused on the areas that mattered most.

Here are five benchmarks we set ourselves for success:

  1. Performance at scale and speed: Saturday night viewers are super demanding, and rightly so. Making sure the system was lightning fast was our top priority. We developed a custom OpenGL video compositing pipeline, designed to run on Amazon's GPU compute instances. This allowed us to render HD compositions of user videos in real time, ready to be uploaded to Brightcove Video Cloud for transcoding. Brightcove Video Cloud played a key role in the scalability of our system. Hosted on a high performance CDN, we had the confidence that users would have a consistently flawless user experience, with no buffering on playback.
  2. A high-quality content experience: User-generated content, while obviously a fantastic way to drive engagement, also comes with a quality challenge. We wanted to create a high-gloss final product that would give users something they were genuinely proud to share, and of course, something worthy of a primetime TV spot.The first step was to control the area in which the content was pushed (the TV screen head) and wrap that with a high-production value layer (the music video). Then with HD source content and adaptive bitrate HTML5 video playback, we ensured that users were always viewing the best quality content that they could support at any given time.
  3. Quick Integration with multiple platforms: Given the time pressure, it was super important that we worked with trusted partners, to leverage their rich APIs and allow for easy integration. We used an API-centric architecture that integrated at its core, with APIs provided by Amazon Web Services, Facebook and New Relic. At the heart of our video creation workflow we utilized Brightcove’s high performance content creation API. This allowed us to create and upload new source video assets immediately after rendering was completed, ensuring that they would be transcoded to support multiple bit-rates and resolutions across desktop and mobile as soon as possible.
  4. A scalable solution: We knew that we'd see big traffic spikes during the shows, but we could only guess on the volume. The system was designed with flexibility at the heart, having the ability to easily scale upwards of 1000 percent during peak periods but importantly coming back down just as quickly thereafter. Managing the service levels in this way meant that budgets could go that much further.
  5. Effortless user experience: The X Factor audience is as broad as they come. We wanted the experience to be simple and intuitive for users, regardless of whether they were eight or eighty years old. With a platform sensitive strategy, we remained focused on the core features, we said no to the unnecessary and endeavored to make the creation process as straight forward as possible.

The results

After a few late nights and some very hard work from everyone involved, we launched on schedule and were pretty chuffed with the results.

  • Over half a million visits served, with 40,000 app downloads.
  • 130,000 videos were submitted, and 300,000 video views.
  • That’s 67,000 minutes of earned viewing off the back of a TV sponsorship.

More interestingly still, we saw engagement levels more than four times higher on iOS vs. Web, giving further evidence to the stickiness of a well-considered mobile experience.

For more information on the project or what the The App Business do please feel free to get in touch with