Two steps forward, one step back: NBC's online Olympic coverage

NBC is going to offer the most complete online coverage ever of the Olympics, but there is a catch.

Harrison Hoffman
Harrison Hoffman is a tech enthusiast and co-founder of LiveSide.net, a blog about Windows Live. The Web services report covers news, opinions, and analysis on Web-based software from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and countless other companies in this rapidly expanding space. Hoffman currently attends the University of Miami, where he studies business and computer science. Disclosure.
Harrison Hoffman
3 min read

Ever since NBC announced their very ambitious plans for online coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I have been very excited to see how well they execute it. Promising 3,500 hours of online video, with 2,200 hours of live streams, full event replays, and highlights, for free, how could they go wrong? It has recently come to light that the online coverage may not be as complete as we were hoping.

NBC will not be offering live online feeds of any events that will be broadcast on TV. The ones broadcast on TV will, of course, include the most popular events and the ones that people are most likely to tune into. The video of the events will be on NBC's site only after the events have been completed. With this in mind, it is clear that NBC views its online offering as a supplement to their TV broadcast and not as any sort of a replacement.

Many have been really quick to heavily criticize this move by NBC, but I'm not jumping on that bandwagon just yet. I am usually not one to defend old media (see my post on Why Broadcast TV Sucks), but I have some sympathy for NBC here. I applaud NBC for taking this major leap into the online distribution of this major event in the first place. It's an unfamiliar road and a departure from a model that has worked for NBC for a very long time.

Of course, we would love to see every live stream available to us, with videos and highlights that we could embed on other sites, but this may be too radical of a first step for NBC. Think of this year's Olympic webcast as testing the waters. If NBC's web offerings prove to be profitable this year, then maybe they will expand their offerings in years to come. The Olympics only happen every two years (the more popular Summer version every four) and I can understand NBC not wanting to gamble too much on this very costly venture.

An online feed of an event like the Olympics (or any sporting event for that matter) can offer all sorts of rich functionality, including realtime statistics, scores, and leaderboards. There is no doubt in my mind that rich functionality will eventually win out, whether it is viewed on your computer or through a new interface on your TV. If it doesn't look like they get it now, NBC and the other networks will eventually see the light, but these big companies may just need a little more time to make the switch at their own pace.

To view NBC's online Olympic offering, you must install Microsoft's Silverlight plug-in.
Amidst all of this, let's not forget who the potential big winner is with this year's Olympics. No, it's not all of the athletes competing for Olympic glory, it's Microsoft's Silverlight. Microsoft scored the exclusive deal with NBC for Silverlight to power all of their Olympic web offerings. Not having caught on that well yet, this will prove to be a good way to expose a lot of new people to Silverlight and get their plug-in installed on a lot more computers. While it may not be the gamebreaker, it will certainly give them a shot in the arm in their fight against Flash.

Don't believe the haters, NBC's online offering of the Olympics is a step in the right direction, just not two steps as a lot had hoped.

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