Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Countdown to Beijing – Live and on the Internet (Part I)

What started as a trickle at the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, nearly imploded at the 2000 Sydney Games, was all but stopped dead in its tracks at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, was begrudgingly embraced at the 2004 Athens Games and 2006 Torino Games will be lovingly embraced by the International Olympic Committee when the 2008 Beijing Games begin in just 10 days on August 8, 2008. The Beijing Games will be the first Olympic Games accepted by the IOC.

Today’s Insider will look at the brief history of the Olympics and Internet streaming of events, while a follow-up report will look at how the host Chinese and the other countries are embracing the Beijing Games and the Internet.

The Beijing Games will be streamed live and available on almost all of those who have access to computers throughout the world. Technology will limit computer users to access to whatever country they happen to be in during the Beijing Games, but most if not all of the Games will be offered on the Internet, a striking difference from eight short years ago when the IOC set believed the Internet was the devil. The IOC rightfully protected anyone who wanted to stream events from the Sydney Games. The IOC believed that the Internet pirates might offer illegal streaming of the Olympic Games during the Sydney Games.

In an interview with James Hattori of CNN done just prior to the Sydney Games, Jonathan Weber, then editor in chief of the Industry Standard, said that in an effort to protect the rights of TV broadcasters, the International Olympic Committee had banned Internet journalism organizations from covering the Olympics in Sydney.

The IOC believed at the time that TV broadcasters had to pay fees for exclusive rights to broadcast the games in their country. In the US the NBC alone had paid $705 million, Hattori reported.

The Associated Press reported in early March 2001 (six months after the Sydney Games) that Olympic officials hadn't wanted to jeopardize their income from TV rights, which accounted for 51 percent of all revenues from the Sydney Games, $1.33 billion of the overall $2.6 billion.

They were widely criticized for their harsh policy and the issue was discussed at a media conference held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in December 2000. Associated Press reported a few months after the conference that Olympic officials decided to give accreditation to a few online news media sites to cover the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

At the Sydney Summer Games the only Internet company that got official access to the athletes and events was Quokka Sports, through a deal with NBC. Quokka provided official NBC Olympic coverage on the Internet from their site nbcolympics.com. Its well worth noting eight years ago most computers that offered Internet access featured dial-up modems and Internet bandwith speeds at 28.8.

15 months after what was regarded as a ground breaking opportunity at the time (securing 20 minutes a day of internet steaming for the Sydney Games) Quokka Sports a San Francisco based company declared bankruptcy.

Wireless, highspeed and broadband weren’t a part of the Internet when the 2002 Salt Lake City Games took place. NBC tried an interesting concept when the 2004 Athens Games rolled around – they offered Internet coverage of events to those within the United States but collected credit card information from users. Fees weren’t charged back to the credit cards, but the fear consumers had when it came to providing their credit card information over the Internet drove potential viewers away.

Not a great deal changed two years later at the 2006 Torino Games. NBC did offer Olympic highlights on their Olympic site http://www.nbcolympics.com/ but their live event coverage was limited to the Gold medal hockey game.

Monday NBC announced what can only be described as one of the most ambitious plans to stream a sports event on the Internet – ever. According to an NBC release: NBC Universal will offer the single most ambitious digital event coverage ever including 2,200 hours of live competition encompassing 25 sports on NBCOlympics.com, with thousands more available on demand. NBCOlympics.com will serve as the Olympic fan's hub for every aspect of the 2008 Beijing Games experience.

NBC Olympics Mobile will present the most comprehensive sporting event coverage ever delivered on mobile, providing Olympic fans with the best in news and video coverage. From live mobile TV broadcasts to breaking news to text and video alerts, NBC Olympics Mobile will be the "on-the-go" destination for Olympic fans. The full digital plan for the Beijing Olympics, August 8-24 was announced today by Gary Zenkel, President, NBC Olympics.

"Over the past 20 years, we have continually expanded our coverage of the Olympics to new platforms as they have become available, and the Beijing Games will mark another milestone," said Zenkel. "With the Beijing Games, the Olympic viewer will be able to define his or her own Olympic experience like never before, watching every sport throughout the Games be it at home on TV, in the office on their computer or on the go on their mobile phones."

Not only are NBC’s plans ambitious – but they’re comprehensive, offering complete Olympic Games coverage online.

Merging news, results and schedules with extensive video coverage highlighted by 2,200 hours of live streaming broadband coverage and an unmatched depth of unique storytelling content, NBCOlympics.com on MSN will be the Olympic fan's hub for every aspect of the 2008 Beijing Games experience-from the most comprehensive TV schedules to learning how to connect to mobile, gaming, VOD and other digital destinations.

EXCLUSIVE PARTNERSHIP WITH MICROSOFT: NBC Universal's exclusive partnership with Microsoft unites NBC's Olympic coverage expertise, MSN's large audience reach and Microsoft's innovative Silverlight 2 technology to deliver NBCOlympics.com video while putting users in control of how they want to experience the Games – online and on demand. Starting August 6, fans logging on to the MSN homepage (http://www.msn.com) will have exclusive access to NBCOlympics.com's comprehensive coverage of the Beijing Games.

Many of the NBCOlympics.com features are detailed below:

VIDEO: NBCOlympics.com will provide approximately 2,200 hours of live streaming broadband coverage of Olympic competition where users can choose from up to 20 concurrent streams encompassing 25 Olympic sports. In addition, the site will offer more than 3,000 hours of on-demand access to full-event replays and extensive highlights, including daily recaps of key events, best-of montages, commentator analysis and athlete-specific clips. (By comparison, at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, NBC streamed two hours of live footage).

The video player's enhanced mode, powered by Microsoft's Silverlight technology, will offer picture-in-picture, quad-screen functionality, a larger viewing area and an improved user experience.

REAL-TIME RESULTS: For all Olympic sports, NBCOlympics.com will present the most comprehensive results anywhere online, provide LIVE results as events are happening and offer statistical summaries, tournament draws and group standings.

PERSONALIZED TELEVISION AND ONLINE VIEWER'S GUIDE: This section, traditionally one of the most trafficked portions of the site during the Games, will be even more important to help navigate the expanded Olympic coverage across all the NBC Universal broadcast and digital platforms. NBCOlympics.com's complete schedule for the NBCU broadcast and online coverage reflects the most up-to-date programming information as the television and online schedules are modified throughout the Games. Additionally, site visitors who enter their zip code will receive localized listings that reflect the exact programming available from their local NBC affiliate, including live streaming listings and digital affiliate channel locations for high-definition viewing on NBC Universal cable stations. Viewers will be able to sort the listings by sport, network, day and time, as well as search by keywords such as athlete, team or country.

EXPERTISE AND ANALYSIS: NBC's Olympic commentators will provide video reviews and previews of competition, as well as insight into specific events, rules and athletes competing in the Games. In addition, NBCOlympics.com producers and writers, including Alan Abrahamson, widely considered the foremost Olympic writer, will be breaking news as well as writing columns, features and analysis. The Associated Press will serve as the primary source for recaps and previews of all the Olympic competition.

MEDAL TRACKER: An in-depth page presenting real-time medal standings, plus related content such as medal ceremonies, past medal standings searchable by country and sport, as well as links from the medal tracker to recaps and highlights of competition.

TEAM USA: Thorough coverage of the American athletes throughout the Beijing Games. Content includes results and medals, video introductions and daily events to watch.

ATHLETE PROFILES: NBCOlympics.com will present bios for all 10,500 athletes competing in Beijing, with unmatched depth of information and content around the American competitors, including Q&As, photo galleries, video clips, results and more.

COUNTRY PROFILES: Snapshots of all 205 participating nations include general data (e.g. population, location), plus Olympic histories and 2008 Olympic outlooks.

PHOTOS: NBCOlympics.com will use screen grabs from NBC Sports broadcasts as well as a full library of Getty and Associated Press images to offer multiple galleries and narrative slideshows across all Olympic sports.

DESTINATION BEIJING: A section dedicated to the host city and nation, featuring video features, photo galleries, written features, blogs and more, for users who want to learn more about the culture of China and the Olympic host city, Beijing.

INSIDE THIS SPORT: This is a feature that will give users everything they need to know about a specific sport including competition formats, scoring systems, rules, glossaries, historic timelines and venues.

BLOGS: More than a dozen Olympians are contributing personally shot, home-video style content to NBCOlympics.com as part of an "Olympic Insider" feature that offers insight into the athletes' personalities and the sports they play. Installments include tours of residences, behind-the-scenes at training sessions, out-of-competition team outings and more. The "Olympic Insider" can be explored at www.nbcolympics.com/olympicinsider/index.html.

WIDGETS: NBCOlympics.com widgets allow users to stay up to date on the Beijing Olympics without leaving their personal homepages. Widgets include: top news, video & photos, athletes to watch, TV and online listings, medal trackers, results, schedules and local coverage.

TELEMUNDO: Telemundo.NBCOlympics.com offers Spanish-speaking viewers a destination for all things Olympics. The largest Spanish offering to date for NBC Olympics, the Telemundo section is a near clone of the English-language site featuring comprehensive coverage (news, video, photos) on key sports including medals, results, athletes and countries.

PRIMETIME COMPANION: A special application to enhance the primetime broadcast, offering video features, text and photos on competition airing in primetime highlighted by polling, chatting, trivia and more. This application will also offer the "Primetime Challenge," a two-screen gaming application in which Olympic fans can play along as they watch NBC's primetime broadcast. Users can compete for points in real-time, while playing against their friends and other fans, by predicting the outcome of live events, answering Olympic trivia and polls, playing Olympic-themed mini-games, and chatting with their friends about that night's competition. The "Primetime Challenge" will be available for all 17 nights of NBC's primetime coverage.

OLYMPIC QUICK PICK FANTASY GAME: The Olympic Quick Pick fantasy game will allow fantasy players and Olympic enthusiasts the opportunity to win prizes for participating while cheering on Olympic athletes. Visitors of NBCOlympics.com will be assigned five random athletes competing for a medal each day. Based on how those athletes finish in their medal events, users will earn fantasy points. Those that accumulate the most fantasy points both daily and over the course of the entire Olympics will win prizes.

OLYMPIC FLASH GAMES: Fans of diving, weightlifting, and archery can compete online in games designed to mimic Olympic competition.

OLYMPIC TRIVIA GAMES: Olympic fans will also be able to test their knowledge with NBCOlympics.com trivia games. Players will be able to compete against other Olympics fans, as well as challenge friends to beat their scores.

A total of 227 of the 232 (97%) NBC affiliated websites (including all top 100 markets) are participating in the 2008 Olympic Zone offering. Olympic Zone presents localized coverage of the Beijing Olympics directly from a user's hometown NBC station. Track local athletes, watch video, slideshows and read blogs. Expanded features in 2008 include:
· Localized national video available via Olympic Zone Advanced Olympic Zone integration into NBCOlympics.com (more modules, contextual items such as local athlete tracker)
· Expanded localized content including national video fed into Olympic Zone
· Improved local athlete trackers with featured local athletes on the national site
· Widgets for placement on station and partner websites
· Local email alerts

NBC Olympics Mobile presents the most ambitious major sporting event coverage ever delivered on mobile, providing Olympic fans with the best in news and video coverage – how they want it, wherever they want it. From breaking news to text and video alerts to live mobile TV broadcasts, NBC Olympics Mobile will be the mobile destination for Olympic fans.

MOBILE WEB: The NBC Olympics Mobile Web site will deliver the most comprehensive coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games available for mobile users. The NBC Olympics Mobile Web site currently includes live news, highlights and feature video, Team USA profiles, slideshow galleries, voting polls, alerts sign-up, and much more. And starting August 8, mobile users will be able to view live medal counts, detailed results & schedules, customizable TV & online listings, and all the top news and video from Beijing.

Users can access the NBC Olympics Mobile web site by going to http://mobile.nbcolympics.com on their mobile device's Internet browser or by texting "OLYMPICS" to 51515.

ALERTS: NBC Olympics Mobile also provides alerts for every Olympic fan. Text and e-mail alerts are available for breaking news, top headlines for all Olympic sports, medal results, event previews, athlete alerts, and TV/live streaming schedule reminders. NBC Olympics Mobile will also provide free photo & video highlight alerts for top Olympic sports.

MOBILE VIDEO: NBC Olympics Mobile Video will provide highlights, daily news, and exclusive feature videos on-demand to mobile video users. Mobile video is available on the NBC Olympics Mobile Web site and on-deck with select mobile providers.

MOBILE TV: NBC Olympics Mobile will launch NBC Olympics 2Go, an all-new 24/7 mobile TV channel featuring the best of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. NBC Olympics 2Go will include complete event coverage from NBC, USA, MSNBC, and CNBC programming. With NBC Olympics 2Go, users will be able to featured and live event coverage while they are on-the-go!

Perkins Miller, SVP Digital Media, NBC Sports and Olympics offered this perspective on the eve of what is being billed as the digital Games in a CNN report, “The significant change is the amount of video you are able to put online. YouTube is now sort of the lingua franca of what's happening (on the Internet), and that's really expanded in the past two years. The driving force is about entertaining the viewer, and ... viewer appetites and points of contact have changed. That's not just putting it online, but (viewer on demand) transmission, moving content onto mobile phones. The ambition is to reach as many viewers as possible.”

Eight short years ago most computer users still used a dial up connection – often at 28.8 speed. In the last two years as Miller pointed out, the leaps and gains in technology are allowing NBC to steam the Beijing Games.

“Video player technology is much better today, processor connections and network connection feed is much better. They are all linked, but the real driver is consumers have been exposed to online video, and expect it.”

One concern Miller and NBC officials don’t have – the cannibalization of NBC's broadcast viewers and advertising revenue?

“We find that online coverage for all our sports properties -- whether its horse racing, Notre Dame football games or whatever -- the more we do online, the more our viewers are engaged in the sports franchise. This drives overall greater (viewership). It's complementary ... if the viewer is not at their television to see a routine, you can see it online. If you are a huge fan of (U.S. gymnast) Shawn Johnson, and want to see a routine again and again, you can get even more Shawn Johnson online.” Miller told CNN.

Miller knows http://www.nbcolympics.com/ are facing a daunting task in producing close to 3,000 hours of online coverage from the Beijing Games.

“There's a huge amount of coordination with more than 17 different technology partners in a wide variety of places -- Beijing, Redmond (Washington state), New York, Italy, Florida. These are the vendors who are developing the software, platforms and hardware to make it all happen.

“Also, we don't get to correct the final fingertip connection -- how do we ensure in a very short period of time that we get the best quality (of streaming video) for those last centimeters of connection?

Television is pretty standardized, but computers are still the frontier, they are different from computer to computer, they have software that may or may not be able to talk to each other. This is still a very new enterprise, not tried and tested and proved over decades of use (such as broadcast television).”

It all begins in nine days – the Beijing Games, likely the most important live Internet streamed event – ever.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this insider report: CNN and Wired News

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