Load performance challenges during the UK General Election campaign

The 2015 UK General Election featured a series of UK and country-specific live televised leaders debates. The Scottish leaders debate attracted a lot of interest given the high profile nature of the Scottish referendum debate the previous year. The 2014 referendum debate generated 450,000 digital stream start requests, with 340,000 requests coming within the first minute of broadcast. This formed the backdrop against which STV had to prepare its digital media platforms for the 2015 Scottish Leaders debate.

STV deployed the SOASTA CloudTest platform in the weeks immediately prior to the UK General Election. “While the Scottish referendum debates of 2014 had provided valuable insights about our online platforms, the Scottish Leaders debate presented a new set of challenges,” said John Catnach, Service Delivery Manager, STV.

Performance and load tests

A key issue faced by STV was the ability to manage huge spikes in traffic over a matter of seconds and minutes as people logged in and registered to view the debates. The other issue was the continued uncertainty over the dates and frequency of the debates. That made planning for the debates incredibly difficult as it effectively narrowed the window for assessing the performance capabilities of the digital platforms to a matter of weeks.

Controversies lead to user spikes

“Live debates have a tendency of throwing up controversial comments that are picked up on social media. It can result in a corresponding spike on our digital platforms as viewers log on via their smartphone or tablets to view what has happened. We had a matter of weeks, if that, to complete complex tests to ensure that our online digital player and platforms could deal with these spikes, both at the beginning of the debates and at any point in between,” Catnach said.

STV ran two tests within days of each other that consisted of 10,000 concurrent users. This highlighted a few issues that were quickly addressed and the company moved on to run a 100,000 concurrent user exercise that validated the login, registration and live stream functionality. The 100,000 user test also included driving traffic to the dedicated election website. SOASTA was able to create and map various user journey scripts that helped us gain valuable insights.

Standardising on the platform

“Overall, the few weeks in April demonstrated the robustness and flexibility of SOASTA’s platform and its ability to adapt to a highly fluid environment. Standardising on the SOASTA platform was an inevitable conclusion. Indeed, the decision has allowed us to create a benchmark against which STV can measure and manage its growth as it continues along the path to become a leading digital player as well as driving our online revenue,” Catnach concluded.

STV also utilised the SOASTA platform to performance test the latest version of STV Player that was launched in May.