Mobiles, music and multiplayer gaming technology: how 2degrees let punters ‘play the bridge’

For many, it was disappointing to see the Auckland Harbour Bridge return to its standard gun-metal grey hue after 2degrees, Special Group and Gladeye added some colour—and musical interactivity—to the landmark during the seven week Play The Bridge campaign. And bringing “New Zealand’s largest lightshow” to life was an impressive feat of digital production problem solving and creativity. 

As a way to create a real life demonstration of 2degrees’ ‘the phone plan reinvented’ campaign, to promote its partnership with Google Play, to celebrate Auckland’s 175th anniversary, to help draw attention to the new Samsung S6, and to show how the phone has basically become life’s remote control, the bridge was covered with 2.5km of LED lights and plugged into Google Play’s 30 million music tracks. And, with the help of some clever technology, the controls were then handed over to anyone with a mobile phone.

Doing something on this scale doesn’t come cheap, of course. 2degrees chief marketing officer Malcolm Phillipps wouldn’t be drawn on how much the campaign cost, aside from saying its budgets are much smaller than those of its larger telco competitors. But it wasn’t just technically clever, it was also strategically clever and efficient, because one big idea managed to bring a few different marketing strands together for the brand (people interacting with the bridge were also filmed and edited in to the TVC). 

Turning one of Auckland’s most recognisable landmarks into a musical mobile plaything took more than six months of planning and co-operation from NZTA, ATEED, Google Play, Sony, Universal and Warners (bridge lanes were officially closed in the early hours of the morning for one week to allow Sydney-based lighting company 32 Hundred Lighting to climb up and install over 1,000 LED light tubes by hand). And the campaign clocked up impressive interaction numbers, including more than 20,000 song requests via playthebridge.co.nz. It was covered by major news media, has been the subject of thousands of photos and generated more than 5.5 million media impressions. And as well as seeing it in the flesh from various vantage points, including an interactive kiosk that was set up at Silo Park, the performances were also able to be watched via live stream, with the music playing through the mobile device. 

“Making 50,000 lights on Auckland Harbour Bridge dance to music, as it streamed perfectly in sync to customers’ mobile phones was a huge technical challenge, as the various New Zealand ISPs, cellular data networks and mobile devices each add their own delays to streaming sound,” says creative partner Tony Bradbourne.

To make it happen, Special partnered with digital production company Gladeye and managing director Tarver Graham says it presented some unique challenges that required the team think differently. 

“We set up a war room kitted out with simulations, test devices, and a handful of our smartest serverside and mobile developers. Their mission was pretty simple: invent a way to do what had never been done before.” 

“It got really complicated,” says tech lead Ken Vu. “Some phones would have a latency of 100 milliseconds one minute, then 350 the next. To conserve battery, some devices adjusted playback speeds on the fly, causing songs to drift off sync even if they could be enticed to start playing at the right moment.” 

An important breakthrough was inspired by multiplayer gaming technology. Gladeye designed a master clock server that would signal the bridge lights, video feed and consumer devices with a consistent, accurate timecode.

“There was this one great moment when it all came together,” says Graham.

Gladeye’s Conrad Blight says Vu had a simulated bridge audio feed playing in one ear and a phone feed in the other.

“They were at least a second out of sync until he switched on the master clock and they just snapped in.” 

In the early hours of morning the bridge was calibrated under the cover of darkness with a single flashing light bulb. 

“We had the team from Special and 2degrees,” says Graham. “Some under the bridge with the lighting crew, some with the video feed across the harbour, and the development team in the war room monitoring the platform. It’s not often you get to play a significant role in a world-first like this. It was a confident big idea that worked.”  

And if a temporary building like the Cloud gets to stay (and let’s not forget what happened with the Eiffel Tower and other temporary buildings), we vote for a light show on the bridge to become a permanent fixture of Auckland. Grey just doesn’t suit the ‘world’s most liveable city’. 

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