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Silverlight to shine in NBC's Olympics coverage

NBC's digital media group is counting down the days to the start of the Games in Beijing--and Microsoft will play a key role in online coverage.

NBC's senior vice president of digital media for Sports and Olympics has been saddled with the task of making NBCOlympics.com a success. And he gets no second chances--once the Olympics launches, the site's live Webcast coverage of the event will be watched by millions.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Miller's eye on the timeline was apparent. "We have 106 days to go," he said Wednesday.

NBC intends to broadcast and archive 17 days of the Olympics on the site, resulting in 2,200 hours of video which users may watch live and call up on-demand for free.

Miller sees this as a complementary repository to what the broadcaster will air on TV. "We're talking about doing 25 sports online that we aren't really doing on broadcast. There will be significantly more content online than on air," said Miller, adding that he has observed strong demand from fans for on-demand content.

The site's Web video player is built on Microsoft's Web application framework, Silverlight. According to Miller, the broadcaster has been planning the project over the last nine months, with more intensive coding work done on the backend with Microsoft over the last four months or so.

Miller said the team had a working prototype in February this year, which has since gone through "various iterations." The project will face another round of testing midyear, which will coincide with the Olympic qualifying rounds, allowing the team to test the player's live streaming functions.

Since the prototype, the team has focused on tweaking the user experience of the player, including the navigation interface, MBR (managed bit rate)--which matches the quality of the video to the user's connection speed--and metadata tagging of video streams to make searching and archiving easier.

"My biggest concern is that the users will have a great experience, and that they will be able to navigate through all the content, and to make sure they'll come back and keep consuming on our platforms," said Miller.

This user experience is affected by the advertising that viewers are exposed to. Working with DoubleClick as the serving engine, Miller said the Silverlight player will display "dynamic ads" to viewers.

"Timing and how we deliver ads will matter to the user experience," Miller noted.

Miller said he is also concerned with piracy of the broadcast streams. To that end, NBC is "engaged closely with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to fingerprint content to protect its rights-holders (and is) having conversations with user-generated content sites such as YouTube to ensure they work with (NBC)," he said.

On NBC's choice of Silverlight as a platform over competitors, Miller noted NBC's existing partnership with Microsoft in MSNBC, but added that Microsoft is a "holistic partner", being able to offer its services as a "media and technology company, not just a technology partner".

NBC is also working with a Los Angeles-based digital media agency, Schematic, to develop the user interface. Schematic CTO Matthew Rechs told CIO magazine last month that some 25 people were working on the project at the agency.

Victoria Ho of ZDNet Asia reported from Singapore.

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