It’s a record-breaking day for Felix Baumgartner and the world: Not only did the professional Austrian daredevil break the 62-year-old record for a freefall from the highest starting point ever, 128,000 feet (more than 24 miles) on Sunday, Baumgartner, 43, had a record-setting 8 million-plus viewers tuned in online to the live event coverage on YouTube.
Millions were tuned in throughout the hours-long event, but the YouTube stream jumped up to more than 8 million viewers as Felix made his leap and broke the sound barrier, topping out at a record-setting 833.9 miles per hour. (The speed of sound is 761.207 miles per hour.) “On the step I felt that the whole world is watching,” Baumgartner said after he reached Earth. “I said, I wish they would see what I see. It was amazing.”
The YouTube livestream was running about a minute behind the Discovery Channel’s live television coverage in the US. But the reason Baumgartner’s amazing space jump was able to draw in so many online viewers is two-fold: One, the feat was only being aired on the Discovery Channel in the US, while any previous contenders for the most-watched live web video were usually broadcast worldwide on basic television, which more people have access to. And two, the previous livestream events were broadcast online through several digital streaming providers, effectively splitting their numbers up. Other web livestream record holders include the 2011 royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, which reached 2 million unique visitors on livestream.com and 3 million simultaneous viewers on Akamai, in addition to several other outlets. Before that, President Barack Obama set a record in 2009 during his inauguration as the 44th president of the United States (peaking at more than 7 million active simultaneous streams, according to Akamai).
In the meantime, as he waits for the official results to come in, Baumgartner is more focused on the other records he hopes to have set today: the fastest freefall (an unprecedented Mach 1), the longest sustained freefall, and the highest ascent in a manned balloon. The previous highest, farthest, and longest freefall was made by retired US Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger, whose 1960 leap from a helium envelope set a record at the time with an altitude of 102,800 feet (31.3km). None of the new marks set by Baumgartner can be classed as “official” until approved by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.