With public setbacks behind it, Silverlight shines

Baseball walked away from the technology in late 2008, and apparent glitches were frustrating Netflix subscribers too. Since then, however, Silverlight has found its silver lining.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
2 min read

A year ago, Microsoft's Silverlight video technology was under fire.

Two high-profile situations--a decision by Major League Baseball to dump Silverlight in favor of archrival Adobe Flash, as well as a series of glitches at Netflix that were blamed on Silverlight--had generated negative publicity.

Since then, however, the complaints seem to have died down. And now, Silverlight is apparently on a roll.

The streaming-video technology is coming off a mostly glitch-free NCAA Men's college basketball tournament. This week, CNET parent company CBS said that CBSSports.com streamed more than 11 million hours of live audio and video during the tournament using Silverlight.

NBC, likewise, used Silverlight to stream the 2010 Winter Olympics.

A Netflix representative said managers at the top online video-rental service are now happy with the technology's performance in delivering digital movies over the Web.

On Thursday, Microsoft announced that it is working with Intel and Broadcom to enable Silverlight to work on set-top boxes, Web-enabled TVs, and other consumer electronics devices. And next week, Microsoft plans to announce a release date for Silverlight's latest upgrade.

Microsoft is fighting to play catch-up with Adobe Systems' popular, established Flash platform and video player.

It hasn't always been apparent that the software giant was up to the challenge.

In November 2008, Major League Baseball announced that it was dumping Silverlight in favor of Flash. A year ago this week, Bob Bowman, CEO of Major League Baseball Advanced Media told CNET in an exclusive interview that the move was made because Silverlight was too glitch prone.

"Major League Baseball "has an ongoing dispute with Microsoft because of the significant problems we encountered last year," Bowman said at the time.

While Microsoft tried to spin baseball's defection as insignificant, the loss must have hurt. In addition to being one of Silverlight's most high-profile customers--one that is religiously followed by millions of Americans--MLB Advanced Media is also the most successful subscription service online and provides back-end services to other sports leagues.

To make matters worse, the month before Bowman publicly criticized Silverlight, scores of Netflix customers were bashing the technology over choppy video, poor audio, and grainy images. Netflix never publicly identified the exact cause of the problems.

Silverlight apparently isn't exactly perfect yet, either. Recently, sources told CNET that CBSSports.com managers tagged Silverlight for some relatively minor glitches during the Web delivery of NCAA games in March.

Representatives of Microsoft and CBSSports.com declined to comment.

"Silverlight wasn't perfect," said one source with knowledge of the problems. "Flash isn't perfect either. These technologies are still developing."

Speaking of Flash--that's the technology Apple has blocked from the iPad. Silverlight is available on the computer tablet in some instances, but Microsoft said Thursday that it plans to update the company's Internet Information Services Media Services to convert media to Apple's streaming format so it can be delivered to the iPad.

Depending on how the iPad fares, this could hand Microsoft a nice advantage against Adobe.