Sony Music builds app to support YouTube’s biggest-ever music livestream event with Google Cloud Platform

Launching 1D Day

While planning the One Direction Day livestream event on YouTube, Sony Music in London wanted to develop a companion “second screen” app to engage fans who can’t get enough of the popular band. 1D Day promised to be massive, and there was less than three weeks in which to build an app. To keep everything up and running smoothly, Sony Music and their digital agency turned to Google App Engine, a Google Cloud Platform service.

A deeper relationship with fans

The event was planned to run for seven hours on a Saturday in November 2013. Fans who logged into the 1D Day Quiz app via Google+ would see multiple- choice questions about the band and what was happening in the live stream. Sony wanted to push out a new question every 10 minutes and display a running total of the fans’ correct answers. They also wanted to award badges for answering a certain number of questions correctly. Plus, the app would include a Google+ feed, regularly updated with observations from the live stream. All of these features would prompt quick spikes in traffic.

“Syco Music consistently uses technology to deepen our relationship and conversation with our fans,” says Genevieve Ampaduh, Head of Digital Marketing. “We wanted fans to experience 1D Day as a fully interactive experience. The Google Hangouts, augmented reality rewards and 1D Day app were all additional ways that fans could get involved with the show as it played out live. Given the size of the 1D fan base and their active nature, it was crucial that the app was powered by Google App Engine. 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.”

“It’s hard to imagine that this app would have been possible, so quickly, working with anything except Google App Engine.”

Genevieve Ampaduh head of digital marketing, Sony Music

Confidence from scalability and ease of use

Sony Music’s digital-marketing agency, ais London, developed the app, with help from Google. Sony Music wanted to capture, store and provide live access to data about fans using the app, plus their locations and demographics. Some of this information would be pushed to the live stream, for a fuller interactive experience. Scalability was crucial to the app’s success. The development team knew that during the seven hours of 1D Day, the traffic load might suddenly shoot from a few hundred queries per second (QPS) to several thousand or higher. “We needed a platform that we could trust 100 percent not to crumble under repeated traffic spikes,” says James Bartram, ais business development director.

“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.” App Engine dramatically improves developer productivity by eliminating the need to write boilerplate code and by handling scaling automatically. These were key factors in developing the 1D Day Quiz app, given the very 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 says. “The app was perfectly on-brand and offered a great user experience for One Direction fans everywhere.”

Astronomical traffic, low error rate

Working with Google, ais wrote the app using PHP, their standard scripting language. The team also decided to use Google Cloud Datastore to support the anticipated high traffic volume. Finally, they chose to use dedicated Memcache, to store statistical data in buckets and relieve any pressure on the Datastore. Each of these features worked seamlessly with Google App Engine. All of these preparations paid off handsomely on 1D Day, when fans discovered the app’s URL a few hours earlier than intended. They posted it on social media, igniting an explosion of site traffic before the event even started. The app team saw this early ramp up of traffic through the App Engine Admin Console and were able to validate many of their assumptions. Four hours into the event, an announcement about the app on the live stream itself caused a 12-times increase in the QPS.

Scaling for success

1D Day was the biggest music livestream ever held on YouTube. It drew 772,000 concurrent viewers, 10.7 million playbacks and 483 years of watch-time. The event also drove over 15 million social mentions, 30,000 news articles and more than 800,000 Google+ followers. The Second Screen app performed flawlessly, with 630,000 unique visitors in just 10 hours. The app’s traffic peaked at 9,000 QPS, well within the planned capacity.

“We knew from past experience the strain that One Direction fans can place on sites and services,” says Nadia Themistocleous, Sony Music Digital Marketing Manager. “Thanks to Google App Engine’s ability to scale, we knew the app would work under heavy loads.”