Friday, August 8, 2008

Mainstream Web Watch: The Olympics & Online Video

Mainstream Web Watch: The Olympics & Online Video

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The Beijing Olympics starts in a few days and what better test of the mainstream web is there than the world's biggest sports event. This is the first in a series of posts that will look at the Web technologies powering this year's Olympics.

One of the most obvious ways the Web will be utilized with the Beijing Olympics is with online video coverage. In the US, NBC has teamed up with Microsoft Silverlight for 2,200 hours of live coverage. Meanwhile in China, Adobe has teamed up with a Chinese network.

The New York Times reported today that NBC will stream 2,200 hours of live events across 25 sports on For context, at the Athens Olympics four years ago there was less than 100 hours of on-demand video. According to the NYT, NBC will use the Internet to "send out mass quantities of video in high resolution". The only catch is that the coverage will only be available to users in the United States, because that's the only place where NBC has rights to broadcast the Olympics.

Despite the geographical limitations, NBC is promising lots of 'new media' features in its Web coverage. These include:

* Users have the ability to watch whatever sport they want, unlike on TV where you get what the broadcaster dishes up.
* There will be 3,000 hours of "on-demand encores of full events and highlights".
* Users can switch between up to 4 live streams.
* Users will see the standard world feed that is sent to all broadcasters, so there will be no network TV commentators. Instead, the NBC expects to see bloggers "serve as play-by-play voices and analysts" (free talent!).
* Users will have access to statistics, biographies and other information.

As the NYT notes, NBC's coverage of the Olympics online is the culmination of NBC's "multiple-network strategy, which began in 2000 with the addition of CNBC and MSNBC to the mix." The upshot is that coverage of the Olympics becomes an on-demand, 24/7 experience -- although unfortunately not worldwide in NBC's case. This is possible because the "cyber-pipelines" infrastructure is largely in place now, in the US, to support such extensive online video coverage.

NBC's coverage online will be powered by Microsoft Silverlight and Windows Media player. CNET reports that Limelight Networks is being used to route the video streams to Internet service providers. NBC was originally planning to use Adobe's Flash, but CNET noted that NBC "was convinced by Microsoft earlier this year that Silverlight would allow it to stream more high-quality video than would have been possible using Flash."

It seems China's TV networks didn't buy that line, as Adobe has partnered with to bring Olympics online video to mainland China. and Adobe Partner for Internet Coverage in China

Today, Adobe announced a partnership with CCTV International Networks Co, Ltd. to deliver Web coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to fans throughout mainland China and Macau. owns the online video rights to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games for mainland China and Macau. plans to provide 5,000 hours of "on-demand protected streamed video content including full event replays, highlights, features, interviews and encore packages." This is made up of 3,800 hours of worldwide broadcast Olympic Games video and 1,200 hours of CCTV's own video.

Choosing Adobe as a partner, as with NBC and Silverlight, is a hint that Chinese Internet viewers can expect a rich interactive experience. The press release trumpets "an unprecedented Web experience created with Adobe Flex and delivered via Adobe Flash technology".

Unlike NBC though, CCTV is not eschewing commentators and replacing them with bloggers. CCTV promises "expert analysis from CCTV's Olympic media team". However it also will be diving into the social web via "social networking features that will enable fans to share aspects of their Olympic experience with friends."

The 2008 Olympics is set to be the first to have a mammoth online video presence. Up to 5,000 hours of coverage would be enough to satisfy even the most rabid of Olympics fan. What's possibly even more interesting to watch will be the performance of interactive Web technologies such as Silverlight and Flash in this coverage. Which one will end up better? Although I guess if you're in the US, you'll never know about Flash - and vice versa for the Chinese regarding Silverlight.


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