Making the X Factor TalkTalk App: 5 benchmarks for success

Daniel Joseph
By Daniel Joseph under News 21 May 2013

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. As sponsors of the X Factor, TalkTalk wanted to create the latest and most challenging instalment of their user-generated strategy across web and mobile, giving fans the chance to take part in their very own music video production. The website, Facebook and iPhone app gave users the chance to create and star in their own music video which they could then share with friends via Facebook, Twitter or Google+ and the best of which could even star on TV.

With CHI as the creative lead and MPC running the TV production, The App Business’ challenge was to design and develop the Web platform, giving fans the opportunity to create their very own music video – via the Web, iOS or Facebook – and then view a high-quality video composition of it in real time – all of this in just 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 a demanding lot so making sure the system was lightning-fast was our top priority. Working with Brightcove Video Cloud, we developed a custom solution which allowed us to deliver high definition user videos in real-time. A scalable system ensured we could deliver a consistently flawless user-experience, with no buffering on playback.

2. Seamless multi platform experience: Creating a seamless user-experience across web, mobile web, Facebook and a native iOS app was essential for success. Given the time pressure, we had to identify the right balance of native app technology and re-usable web technology to create a high quality experience that could scale cost-effectively across devices. And it meant working with trusted partners including Amazon Web Services, Facebook and New Relic to ensure easy integration. In particular, using Brightcove’s video technology allowed us to create and upload video assets across desktop and mobile as soon as possible.

3. High-quality user-generated content: 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 high definition source content and adaptive HTML5 video playback, we could ensure that users were always viewing the best quality content that they could support.

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 to be extremely flexible, 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 too.

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 endeavoured to make the creation process as straight-forward as possible.

The results

After several late nights at The App Business and a lot of hard work from everyone involved, we launched on schedule and were really chuffed with the results.

- Over half a million visits served, with 40,000 app downloads.

- 130,000 videos were submitted, with 300,000 video views.

- 67,000 minutes of earned viewing off the back of a TV sponsorship.

We love a high pressure challenge at The App Business and TalkTalk X Factor was certainly one of those. By working agile, focusing on a seamless user-experience and working with the right partners, we were able to pull together and deliver a multi-platform integrated solution, for Saturday night’s biggest TV show, in 8 just weeks.