NBC's digital Olympics unveiled

NBC's plans include video streaming, mobile

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NEW YORK -- 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 even a way to download coverage to computers with Microsoft Vista.

The network 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. Major partners include Microsoft, Amazon Unbox, Schematic and many others.

NBC's digital Olympics coverage has evolved quickly, beginning with one hockey game streamed on the Web in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Now there's not one Summer Olympics sport that won't get the full treatment, not only blanket video coverage but also 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, where the sports got comparatively short shrift compared to other disciplines.

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/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, which viewers can read and navigate even if they have the sound down.

There's a few minutes of time required for the user to get up to speed with the player, but Kaufman said it's well worth learning. Matthew Rechs, Schematic's chief technology officer, said that one of the player's features will easily allow 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 is a big part with NBC Olympics Mobile. That 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, MSNBC and CNBC.

The video downloads, called NBC Olympics on the Go, will be available for people who are running Microsoft Vista Media Center through TVTonic.com, a broadband media service from New York-based 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 TV Tonic 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, said Sprague, who declined to disclose the cut Wavexpress gets from the ad sales NBC controls. 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 videos with the click of a mouse.

The breadth and depth of coverage online, as well as the three-week-long games, invites comparisons to the other big online sporting event, CBS Sports' March Madness on Demand. There's no comparable "boss button" like 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. That means that it's still unclear about how much of an impact it will have on workers' productivity, said Jason Kint, general manager of CBS Sports Interactive who runs MMOD. Kint thinks that the productivity dampening aspects of March Madness on Demand are more overblown, anyway.

"This is three weeks, which is a lot different" than the heavy demand CBS Sports gets for the first weekend of MMOD, Kint said. "But again, if it's not the finals or gymnastics, it's not the major events that are live on TV, I don't know what kind of effect it'll have on the workplace." Not all of it will be live, however.