Fearless Felix & Red Bull Project Stratos

Last Sunday I was having brunch at Goat Town while Felix Baumgartner was slowly ascending to 120,000+ ft (39 km) in a capsule attached to a helium balloon. Just as the first round of drinks arrived Felix opened the capsule, stepped outside, and jumped back to Earth. We were watching the live stream on YouTube, gasping when we saw him spinning and cheering when he recovered, deployed the chute, and glided back down to New Mexico as if he was returning from a routine parachute jump. Wow, we had just watched something amazing on several different levels:

1) The Youtube livestream was the perfect combination of medium and content. The event itself was appealing to a wide global audience and the ability to watch on the go on multiple devices (for free) made it easy to join in. YouTube has confirmed 8MM concurrent views likely classifying Baumgartner’s jump as the most-watched livestreamed event to date. I’d be really curious to see the breakdown of views by device*.

2) Live video online works and works well for both short and long-form content: the total stream was 3+ hours and included launch prep, launch, ascent, and descent (not sure if the press conference was also shown live).  This is clearly a viable model for content owners to produce and disseminate content directly to consumers. For example, Arsenal can stream matches directly to their supporters on a variety of devices, with choice commentary, either free or for a fee. Recent examples of a similar model include Louis CK’s paid downloads of several standup acts** and the subscription model that MotoGP has been following for some time***.

3) Red Bull are fantastic at the branding game and they know their audience very well. They’ve been a long-term sponsor of a variety of extreme sports and extreme athletes and have lately started to apply the same principles towards more traditional sports like track & field****. The presence of their logos on athletes’ uniforms or equipment feels native and genuine: they understand the sports, athletes, and events they sponsor very well and more importantly understand the fans.

4) The Stratos project team emphasizes its scientific roots and contributions: the pressurized suit that was designed for Baumgartner is the first of its kind and hopefully lead to development of the next generation of space suits (less bulky, more maneuverable). We also now know that a human can withstand the speed of sound and it remains to be seen if there are other scientific uses of the equipment or data gathered during the jump. On the one hand there’s science and on the other there’s pure bad-ass daredevilry and Project Stratos somehow manages to gracefully sit somewhere right in the middle.

Well done Red Bull Stratos crew and a happy subsonic retirement to Felix.

_______________

* I started off watching on my laptop & iPad (to overcome some early YouTube loading issues and to clock two views at the same time!) at home and then transitioned to my mobile when I went out. Had I been home during the entire jump I would have probably watched it on the big screen via the AppleTV YouTube app (or alternatively Airplaying off of phone or iPad — I find that I use Airplay more than the native app in general).

** Louis CK began offering video downloads of his stand ups at a $5 price point with no DRM.

*** MotoGP offers a video pass for all races and alters the price throughout the season (so if you want to buy a video pass late in the season for a fewer number of races it’ll be cheaper).

****RB worked with the Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones on Project X: a way to use telemetry and data to improve human athletic performance and their roster of sponsored athletes/teams is truly impressive.

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