A livestream broadcast of the Scottish independence debate which sensationally crashed, leaving tens of thousands without any coverage, has been blamed on an American supplier to the broadcaster, STV.
The meltdown occurred throughout the two-hour clash between First Minister Alex Salmond and Better Together leader MP Alistair Darling on Tuesday night.
Scottish broadcaster STV has apologised after its live streaming of the debate broke down, prompting a furious reaction from viewers, including many ex-pats living abroad.
The problem, it was revealed today, was down to a supplier of online streaming based in the US, called Brightcove.
Robert Dawson Scott, who runs STV’s digital player as head of customer engagement, confessed on Shereen Nanjiani’s BBC Radio Scotland show this morning that the reason it collapsed during the debate was that the device was operated by the American supplier, who he said had let them down.
He said: “It was nearly a really, absolutely fantastic night. We were let down by a third party supplier in America.
“We have had a grovelling apology from the chief executive of that company, who are the people who make the player.
“The moment has passed and the damage has been done. the TV audience was enormous [but] it just took the edge off, which is a shame. We are extremely sorry.”
David Mendels, chief executive of Brightcove, said: “On behalf of Brightcove, I would like to apologise to STV and its viewers around the world for the recent viewing issues surrounding the online broadcasting of the televised independence debate on the 5th of August.
“Our system is capable of significant scale, but in this case a manual configuration error resulted in the issues experienced by the public.
“We are proud of our long-standing partnership with STV and the quality of service we have been able to deliver so we are very disappointed by this error. We will work hard to ensure this never occurs again.”
Bobby Hain, director of channels at STV, said: “Now that we have identified the source of the issue on the STV live streamon Tuesday night, we welcome Brightcove’s commitment to ensure future service will be of a quality that STV and our viewers expect.”
The debate attracted a massive television audience of around 1.7million people.
Mr Dawson Scott said that, within the first minute of the programme being broadcast, they had 300,000 requests for it online. It later rose to half a million.
Despite doubling the capacity on the service, he said they had been unaware of the underlying problem with the American company.
STV, which had turned down requests by both the BBC and Sky News to simulcast the debate, said it was hit by “unprecedented demand” for its coverage of the referendum clash.
Critics said it should have anticipated the level of interest after ITV – of which STV is the Scottish licence holder – chose not to broadcast the debate on any of its channels across the UK.
The BBC, which is in negotiations to broadcast its own referendum debate later this month, had offered to simulcast the debate online and on the BBC News channel, which would have made it available on TV across the UK.
But the corporation, which is understood to have made “strenuous efforts” to obtain the rights for the debate, had to make do with a maximum of nine minutes of coverage for its news bulletins and other programmes across TV and radio.
Sky also offered to simulcast the debate but STV took the decision to hold on to the exclusive live rights.
It said viewers outside of Scotland would be able to watch the two-hour debate online but the website was unable to cope with a surge in demand after it began at 8pm on Tuesday.
BBC broadcaster Andrew Neil said on Twitter: “Feed from STV making a great debate impossible to watch. Really angry.
“Now lost STV connection. Useless beyond words.”
A spokeswoman for STV said: “We have had complaints from people who were understandably frustrated they couldn’t get access to it and of course we apologise.
“We had more than 500,000 streams and people who [started watching] before 8pm had a seamless experience. It seems to have been extremely busy at 8pm that unfortunately held up a few people.”
Critics accused STV of a “silly turf war” by not allowing other broadcasters to have access to the debate.
The party leaders’ debates ahead of the last general election were opened up to other broadcasters, with the second debate hosted by Sky News simulcast on the BBC News channel.
STV said the referendum was a debate secured by the Scottish broadcaster rather than a pooled affair, as was the case with the party leader debates.
The BBC is in negotiations with both sides about staging a debate of its own later this month between Salmond, the Scottish first minister, and Darling, the former chancellor and chairman of the Better Together campaign.
If successful, it is likely to be shown to viewers around the country on the BBC News channel and simulcast on BBC2.
STV’s Twitter feed told followers at the time: “For those having problems with the STV Player at the moment we are aware of this and are working hard to fix it.”
Many viewers trying to watch the debate online were greeted with a blank screen and the message: “Segment loading security violation. Video playback not possible.”
Labour MP Tom Watson tweeted: “Don’t tell me, you’ve been surprised by the number of people trying to stream the debate? Totally hopeless.”
STV made the debate available to the whole ITV network which decided not to broadcast it outside of Scotland.
An ITV spokesperson said: “ITV will screen the 8pm to 10pm debate live, in the area where our viewers have a vote in the question under discussion.
“Viewers in Border Scotland will be able to watch the debate on Freeview. The debate will of course be covered as a news story in our news programmes broadcast to the whole of the UK.”