Microsoft and NBC Deliver Groundbreaking Online Olympics Viewing Experience
Q&A: Executives from MSN, NBC and Microsoft offer details behind the largest online broadcasting event in history.
REDMOND, Wash. – Earlier this year Microsoft and NBC Universal announced plans to make NBCOlympics.com on MSN the official online home of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The partnership is expected to result in the largest online broadcasting event in history, offering viewers a new level of choice and flexibility in Olympics coverage.
To get the story behind how Microsoft and NBC are working together, what advantages viewers will experience from this partnership, and an innovative new Web application developed for the event based on Microsoft Silverlight 2, PressPass recently spoke with Erik Jorgensen, corporate vice president of MSN, Perkins Miller, senior vice president of digital media for NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, and Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the Developer Division at Microsoft.
PressPass: What can users expect from online coverage on NBCOlympics.com?
Miller: NBCOlympics.com on MSN will give sports fans an Olympics experience online like never before, allowing them to watch what they want, when they want. At its peak, NBCOlympics.com will broadcast 20 simultaneous streams online in the richest video format available on the Web today. To put this into perspective, if you made watching the 2008 Summer Olympics a full-time job, it would take you more than two and a half years to watch all the content.
Jorgensen: NBCOlympics.com on MSN will give Olympics fans exclusive access to more than 3,000 hours of live and on-demand video content, all through an immersive and interactive video experience that will redefine how sports fans consume content online. This partnership builds on the momentum MSN achieved with Live Earth and demonstrates the value of the MSN Network as an online media distributor to content partners looking to gain maximum exposure online.
PressPass: Why did NBC choose to work with Microsoft to broadcast Olympics coverage online? What makes this project unique?
Miller: We first approached MSN after the tremendous work they did on the Live Earth event last year. That was a huge undertaking for MSN and our goal was very similar: making the 2008 summer games the most widely watched Olympics online. MSN’s significant distribution and massive audience reach were critical to our decision-making. In addition, Microsoft’s Silverlight 2 technology will give users a remarkable online Olympics experience. The combination of MSN and Silverlight will truly put the users in control.
Jorgensen: When you factor in the live streaming requirements, we believe that only Windows Media can deliver the necessary scalability, reliability and return on investment (ROI) for large events such as the Olympics. Through this partnership, Microsoft and NBC are going to raise the bar for Internet broadcasting. NBCOlympics.com on MSN will be available free to MSN visitors and will offer users direct access to over 34 Olympic sport categories and more than 300 times the video content that was available for the 2004 Olympic Games. Video content will be available in both short and long formats, and at multiple bit rates.
PressPass: How does NBCOlympics.comexperience use Silverlight?
Guthrie: Microsoft’s Silverlight technology will allow NBC to deliver Olympics content to a broad U.S. Internet audience through an immersive and interactive video experience that includes not only some of the highest-quality video on the Web today, but enhanced data such as results and athlete information that can be overlaid on the video stream. NBC has been using Silverlight to broadcast content since the Olympic trials earlier this summer, and all live and on-demand content will be viewable via Silverlight during the games.
Silverlight enables new types of functionality, such as the “control room” view, which allows multiple streams of video to be previewed simultaneously, enabled by the playback performance of Windows Media video on PCs and Macs. The picture-in-picture feature will allow viewers to watch multiple feeds simultaneous and quickly switch to the current feed that interests them most, all in high-quality video. Other features enable users to set alerts so they won’t miss their favorite event, and the ability to share a feed they’re watching with a friend. Adaptive streaming provides the best possible streaming experience for the viewer, regardless of network conditions, via sophisticated techniques that adjust the delivery bit rate on the fly.
PressPass: Will users be required to download Silverlight to watch content on NBCOlympics.com on MSN?
Guthrie: There’s been some confusion about what’s required to watch the Olympics online. There will be a basic Web experience available for PC users who opt not to install Silverlight. However, for those users who do not already have Silverlight installed, it takes just four to 10 seconds to download. Silverlight will power a great user experience on both Macs and PCs, and these users will experience many unique features.
PressPass: What else can viewers expect when they log on to the NBCOlympics.com on MSN?
Miller: When we set out to develop NBCOlympics.com on MSN, it was a priority to provide users with the opportunity to watch their favorite sporting events and athletes at the most convenient times, as well as to provide them with additional content to enhance their viewing experience. The user has the power to make his or her own choice about what to watch and when. They can choose live Ping-Pong at 3 a.m., gold-medal swimming highlights during their lunch hour, full-game basketball replays during dinner — the options are virtually endless. We’re also providing additional content and information, so viewers will see a video window flanked by athlete bios, related videos, medal counts and other relevant statistics. For live events, users will also get live play-by-play commentary directly from Beijing.
PressPass: What are the general advantages of Silverlight for developing these kinds of rich Web applications?
Silverlight 2 also includes a rich user interface (UI) framework, which is a subset of the full Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) UI framework that we ship on the desktop as part of the .NET Framework today. This gives developers a really rich foundation to build applications. It provides advanced features like layout management, so that as pages or controls are resized, it can automatically adapt and modify the layout of the content within. It includes data binding support, to enable rich data scenarios while maintaining model/view separation. It also includes a very rich skinning, styling and animation system, which allows developers to customize the look of the applications.
There are a number of other great features developers can get excited about, but what it really boils down to is that Silverlight is a modern platform expressly built for developing RIAs.
PressPass: Will NBC’s Olympic coverage be the first outing for Silverlight?
Guthrie: While the NBCOlympics.com on MSN will be the largest Silverlight application to date, it is by no means the first. Silverlight 1.0 was released in April 2007, and since then it has been deployed by many leading innovative media and enterprise customers, such as AOL, Aston Martin, Cirque de Soleil, Entertainment Tonight, Hard Rock International, Home Shopping Network, NBA and Universal, just to name a few. In addition, next month the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) will use Silverlight 2 to bring live, gavel-to-gavel convention video coverage of the highest quality to a worldwide audience via the DNCC’s Web site at DemConvention.com. Silverlight multimedia applications will provide an all-access pass for the convention’s online audience, offering an unprecedented opportunity for viewers to individually tailor their convention experiences.
The NBCOlympics.com Experience Enabled by Silverlight
Silverlight delivers several features to help viewers enjoy this year’s Olympics coverage, including the following:
• Users can view up to four events at the same time with picture-in-picture controls, and customize the player to capture their favorite events.
• Expert commentary, dynamic statistics, play-by-play captioning and athlete profiles are all available through the player.
• On-demand capability allows users to choose from more than 3,000 hours of live and background footage.
After installing Silverlight, navigate to the NBC Olympics video page here, and select your desired video. After a brief advertisement, an “Enhanced Player” button will appear. Click this button to access the enhanced features above.
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