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NBC Olympics On Internet Video

NBC is piling on the online programming from the Beijing 2008 Olympics, August 8-24 -- planning to offer over 3600 hours on its NBCOlympics.com site, and free (with 30-second pre-roll commercials). NBC reports that the site had 70 million page views last Friday, 10 times more than the 7 million views on the opening day of the Athens Games.

The NBCOlympics.com site offers news, photos, and videos from the 34 medal sports, searchable by sport, country, athlete name, type (live, highlights, etc.), and relevance (see the Site Map for a complete listing). The NBC Olympics Video section includes live feeds, replays of broadcast shows, highlights, special features and interviews, and local interest. And there's lots of ways to see the videos -- watch a streaming video, watch higher res video or even four events at a time, watch low-res video on a mobile phone, or download a highlight clip or entire event to watch later.

To display the videos, NBC is using the Microsoft Silverlight video technology -- Microsoft's answer to Adobe Flash for platform-independent Web (and desktop) video playback. Silverlight runs on Windows and Macintosh (Intel only), under recent versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and/or Safari. It does require installing the latest update -- Silverlight 2 beta 2.

Actually, Windows users can watch individual clips even without installing Silverlight, using the Windows Media Player (at ~ 600 x 300 resolution). But the full enhanced Silverlight player experience provides larger-size video (~ 850 x 480 res), plus the ability to watch up to four simultaneous live events at once. (For more on watching videos, see the NBC Video FAQ.)

Although the Olympics is an international event, NBC has the rights to broadcast on the Internet only for the U.S. & Territories (excluding Puerto Rico). So when you click to play an event video, the site prompts you for your zip code and TV provider / local broadcaster. As a result, the site can nicely display event information using local times (and dates), and offers video from your local station, including local athletes and related blogs.

The official site of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games also provides information and results in multiple languages, and photo galleries.

More on NBC Olympics Video Options ...

To watch event videos on the NBCOlympics.com site, check the TV & Online Listings area for details of NBC's coverage, online and across its broadcast networks (NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Universal HD, Oxygen, and Telemundo). All Listings shows a master grid of sports by day, while TV Listings and Online Listings provide more detail on the events being covered.

NBC also offers Mobile Olympics coverage, including Mobile Web with news, Mobile Alerts, and Mobile Video, including Sprint and Verizon VCAST.

And you can download highlight clips and even full-length events to play back later (even when not online) through NBC Olympics On The Go, which uses the NBC Direct service and player also used for downloading selected NBC shows. This requires downloading a special player to enforce the associated content protection DRM -- these files expire after 7 days, and cannot be shared on another PC, downloaded to a mobile device, or burned to DVD. The player is Windows-only, and supports the Microsoft Windows Media video (WMV) and Adobe Flash Video (FLV) formats (see the NBC Video FAQ).

Finally, to monitor the ongoing action, you can sign up for alerts, check out the Widgets for social networking sites and Mac Dashboard / Vista Gadget desktops, or subscribe to the RSS feeds (including Local, County, Sport, Videos).

While all this online coverage on NBCOlympics.com is great, and has been a tremendous challenge to prepare and support, some of the details still can be frustrating for users. The video windows are fixed-size, and do not resize to fit better on your desktop. The live feeds, replays, and highlights / plays of the day are not annotated with text or voice commentary; so for example, you can watch a rider on a horse prancing around a field for minutes without having any idea what's going on. And the "Plays of the Day" and highlight clips do not identify the teams or the players, except if the selected clips happen to have some graphic overlays.

Another problem comes from the massive quantity of clips being hosted at the site -- it can be hard to find what you're interested in. And it's hard to make sense of the brief descriptions with the thumbnails -- "Men's - Group B" is a bit ambiguous as to the sport, as is "Daily recap: Saturday."

Select Soccer videos, for example, and there's already 70 videos, mixed by men / women, date, games, and daily goals / plays -- but no direct link between scheduled games and associated videos. There are news briefs, but not all have video. And the longer news articles do not link to the associated videos. Meanwhile, the Video Control Room to set up a simultaneous feed from four events requires that you scroll though thumbnails of some 118 events, six at a time.

Similarly, you have to dig to do a general search. The main video page has search by pre-defined categories, but no general search. But if you click to play a clip, the player window does include a free text Search box. Then if you search for "Opening Ceremony," for example, it returns 19 clips -- but they are previews and personality reports, and not highlights or the full event. (See the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games site for coverage of the opening ceremony and the associated photo gallery).

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This entry posted on August 10, 2008.

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