The Olympics’ Internet Explosion

It used to be a standing joke in my home that the summer Olympics was all about watching non-stop gymnastics. But there is no better place to demonstrate the diversity and ensuing explosive growth in Internet video than this week’s Olympic games from Beijing.

NBC is planning on broadcasting via the Internet more than two thousand hours of live video programming, covering 25 different sports. Compare this with the winter Olympics two years ago in Turin, where a single hockey match was broadcast live over the Internet. Clearly, this is more than just gymnastics all the time, and offers an unprecedented opportunity for sports fans to tune in without having to suffer through any “up close and personal” mini-biographical interruptions. It’s all sports, all the time.

All told, approximately 3,600 hours of event programming will be provided both as a live video feed and available as stored streams for later viewing. Just the live programming is about double of what was broadcast four years ago for the Athens Olympics.

“The amount of video being delivered for this year’s Olympics exceeds all the prior summer games broadcasts in terms of hours and complexity,” said Matt Adams VP of Broadcast Solutions for Omneon of Sunnyvale, Calif. Adams heads up the Olympics project for the company, which is one of the many key technology suppliers for the games.

The video demands for this year’s sporting spectacular are bigger, too. It isn’t just broadcast TV and Internet, but a range of both high definition and standard definition—support for both mobile and streaming players too. Adams has “lost count” of the number of different video formats that will be generated for the various devices.

“Our biggest challenge is the scale of what we are doing and the many different standards of the various new media formats,” he said. “It seems like every day NBC is signing up a new distribution outlet with a new format.” is handling the transcoding of the various video formats.

What the viewer will see is a custom media player on the Web site,, which was developed using Microsoft’s Silverlight programming tools by All of the content will be available free of charge, and up to a dozen simultaneous streams will be running at any given time during the actual sporting events. The content can be viewed on a variety of Web browsers although non-Intel-based Macs are not supported due to Silverlight v2 limitations.

Matthew Rechs, the CTO of Schematic, said, “We have done a lot of different video players for different clients. What is unique about this one is bringing content that has never been seen before online. Up until relatively recently, a very small amount of the games were televised. Now you watch every minute of whatever contest that you want to see.”

NBC’s Web site also has extensive searching features so that fans can filter video feeds by sport, country or even particular athletes. Fans can watch up to four live streams from the same event at once. The picture-in-picture feature lets fans watch a program displayed in inset windows while another program is displayed on the full screen.

Fans can also view expert commentary that is displayed over the video, and also access rich meta data such as results, and athlete information while they’re watching,plus they can receive email alerts to ensure they catch their favorite events live.

New Era, New Challenges

Hosting the games halfway around the world as well as trying to meet the insatiable appetite of international sports fans in this You Tube era combine to pose special challenges. There are actually two different video production processes, one for handling the live TV and Web streams, and one for assembling edited packages after an event has taken place for a variety of video formats.