NBC game for giving viewers everything

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Olympics fans will have a bevy of opportunities to get content from NBC Universal next month — 2,200 hours of live online coverage, live events on their mobile phone and downloads to computers with Microsoft Vista.

The network has announced plans that will encompass many of the digital platforms in use today. It also will include fantasy and casual gaming, VOD and interactive TV, and major partners including Microsoft, Amazon Unbox and Schematic among others.

NBC's digital Olympics coverage began with one hockey game streamed online during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. This year, there's not one Summer Olympics sport that won't get the full treatment, from blanket video coverage to audio play-by-play and commentary and live blogging by NBC Sports experts. That's quite a change for fans of fencing or kayaking, for example.

NBCOlympics.com's player was built by Schematic on the foundation of Microsoft's Silverlight 2 platform, an alternative to Adobe Flash. The Schematic player will be used for viewers who want to choose from coverage of four live events totaling 2,200 hours or the 3,600 hours of on-demand coverage, including what was on TV sometime after it was aired. Schematic has vast experience with video players, designing ABC.com's as well as CNN Pipeline, among others.

"What we're trying to accomplish with the NBC Olympics site is to allow people to watch as much of the Olympics as they care to," Schematic CEO and founder Trevor Kaufman said. "Every minute of every event is available through the player."

One of the many features in the Schematic player is a continuous closed-caption stream of live commentary that viewers can read and navigate even if they have the sound down.

Users need a few minutes to get up to speed with the player, but Kaufman said it's worth learning. Matthew Rechs, Schematic's chief technology officer, said the player allows users to see the top video streams and on-demand coverage.

"It'll be fun to see what people enjoy watching," Rechs said. "This is a way of browsing through the stuff that was on television without having to try to dig it out elsewhere."

For the first time, mobile also will play a big part. NBC Olympics Mobile includes a mobile Web site, text and e-mail alerts plus mobile video and NBCOlympics 2Go, a mobile channel with event coverage that runs on NBC, USA Network, MSNBC and CNBC.

The video downloads, called NBC Olympics on the Go, will be available for those running Microsoft Vista Media Center through TVTonic.com, a broadband media service from Wavexpress.

"Watching on TVTonic is a much more TV-like experience than streaming video online," TVTonic president Michael Sprague said. "Olympics on the Go is an extension of NBC's already breathtaking plans for online coverage."

TVTonic users will be able to cache video of Michael Phelps swimming to his first gold and watch it at their leisure, much in the way they have been able to download content from more than 100 video channels since Wavexpress partnered with Microsoft at the launch of Vista in 2007.

Using TVTonic requires Windows Media Center, an application included in 80% of the 100 million Vista PCs shipped, Wavexpress said.

NBC Olympics on the Go is advertising supported and will have major sponsors. TVTonic users will be able to select from among the most popular sports including beach volleyball, swimming, gymnastics and basketball, all of which they'll be able to organize, pause, rewind, fast forward and rewatch with the click of a mouse.

The breadth and depth of coverage online, as well as the fact the Games last 17 days, invites comparisons to the other big online sporting event, CBS Sports' March Madness on Demand. There's no comparable "boss button" like there was on the CBS Sports online player, but the same potential question is there. How many workers are going to be tuning in to see their favorite Olympic sports live over the Web?

It probably won't be a problem in terms of wide traffic because unlike MMOD, NBC isn't streaming every event live. Several of the key primetime events are going to be only available live on TV. So it's unclear how much of an impact it will have on workers' productivity, said Jason Kint, GM of CBS Sports Interactive, which runs MMOD. Kint thinks that the productivity-dampening aspects of March Madness on Demand are overblown, anyway. (partialdiff)
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