Skydiver sets speed and YouTube record

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Remarkable images of a man free-falling from the edge of space have set new records, not just for daredevil stunts but for live online viewing, as more than 8m people watched the Red Bull Stratos stunt on YouTube.

Felix Baumgartner, 43, became the first skydiver to break the speed of sound as he jumped from an altitude of 128,100 feet above New Mexico on Sunday, falling at an estimated 833.9 miles per hour (Mach 1.24) during his ten-minute descent.

“On the step, I felt that the whole world is watching,” Mr Baumgartner said after the event. “I said I wish they would see what I see. It was amazing.”

The giant leap highlights the opportunity for the internet to attract substantial audiences for live events, traditionally TV broadcasters’ most lucrative asset.

Millions of viewers were able to see what Mr Baumgartner saw through a carefully choreographed set of cameras positioned on the capsule from which he leapt.

While Mr Baumgartner’s statistics are yet to be verified by the relevant authorities, the stunt is already expected to mark a new high for live internet broadcasting.

A spokesman for Google-owned YouTube confirmed that Red Bull’s video feed of Mr Baumgartner’s slow ascent and rapid return to earth topped 8m concurrent live streams, the largest number in the site’s history.

That beats what is believed to be the previous high, when 7m online viewers simultaneously watched President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, according to Akamai, a digital content provider.

In comparison, the BBC’s sports website received 8.3m visitors from around the world on the first Sunday of this summer’s Olympics, the site’s busiest day ever.

YouTube said that total viewing figures for other recent media spectaculars, such as the London Olympics and last year’s Royal Wedding would have come close to Stratos’ total reach, but were “not close” in terms of the number of people watching the skydive simultaneously.

As well as the exposure for Red Bull’s energy drink, YouTube viewers were shown a “pre-roll” advertisement for Chrysler, the automaker, according to media industry blog Adland.tv.

The stunt was also broadcast on traditional television, including on the Discovery Channel in the US and more than 40 other networks across 50 countries. A documentary about the stunt, two years in the making, is set to air later this year.

YouTube – the web’s largest video site by some distance – still has some way to go before it can attract a live audience to match TV blockbusters such as the Super Bowl. Some 111m people watched February’s American football game, setting a TV ratings record in the US.

Although print media has seen its audiences and advertising income plunge since the emergence of the internet, TV has remained relatively resilient.

As people around the world turned to their computers and mobile devices to watch Mr Baumgartner’s death-defying feat, they also flocked to social-media sites.

Red Bull had used Facebook and Twitter to stoke anticipation about the event in recent weeks, sharing photos of the Austrian skydiver’s preparation and a computer-generated simulation of the leap. More than 366m people have viewed videos on Red Bull’s YouTube channel.

Twitter said that 2m tweets were posted about Mr Baumgartner and a total of 3m about the jump on Sunday. During the final day of the US Democratic party convention in Charlotte last month, 4m tweets were posted.

Earlier this month, South Korean pop hit “Gangnam Style” became one of the fastest videos to enter YouTube’s all-time top 10 with 464m views since it was uploaded in July.