Four years ago at the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver, NBC streamed just two events live — ice hockey and curling. All 15 venues will be live-streamed at the Games that begin Thursday in Sochi.
You won’t need to be glued to a TV set to watch, or even sit in front of a personal computer, which was the way you had to catch the live-stream from Vancouver. This time around, you can check out the action from Sochi on your smartphone or tablet.
Sports die-hards who, for the most part, have been ignored in prime time, will be able to rely on mobile devices to see what’s going on as it happens. If you miss that breathtaking ski jump or biathlon competition, you can catch an encore starting at 3 p.m. ET on demand, though in some cases, you won’t be able to watch a full replay on your phone or tablet until the event is shown to NBC’s prime-time TV viewers. (Sochi is nine hours ahead of the East Coast U.S. viewer.)
NBC has the exclusive U.S. rights to the Olympic videos — streaming, highlight clips, archiving and video on demand. The digital broadcast feeds will be produced by NBC directly, or come from the host Olympic Broadcasting Service.
To help deliver the Olympics, NBC is partnering with Microsoft on the latter’s Windows Azure cloud-computing technology. NBC is also working with Adobe in delivering the experience. Over the 18-day course of these Games, NBC will stream more than 1,000 hours live. Microsoft’s Steve Clayton says you’ll be able to see every second of all 98 events if you choose. “Sometimes, (TV) networks only show what’s most popular,” says Clayton, who edits the Next at Microsoft blog.
Putting things in perspective, consider that Apple’s iPad, which led the explosion in the tablet market, hadn’t reached consumers by the time of the Vancouver Games in February 2010. By the Summer Olympics in London, all the competition was live-streamed on mobile devices. And video-watching on a tablet was actually two times that of video-watching on a smartphone.
You can follow the Games digitally on NBCOlympics.com or on the NBC Sports Live Extra App — available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices. The Live Extra App is free and covers other sports NBC is involved in, including the NHL, PGA Tour and Triple Crown Horse Racing.
But here’s an important point: To access most of the live streams, you’ll have to be an authenticated cable, satellite or telecom customer — via the TV Everywhere initiative that some media providers have been pushing. There is a one-time, half-hour free pass. For now, when you click on the Sochi section prior to the Games, you can watch videos, such as an interview with U.S. biathlete Tracy Barnes explaining why she gave her Olympics spot to her twin, Lanny.
To verify your credentials, go to NBCOlympics.com/LiveExtra on each device you plan to use. You’ll be prompted to download the NBC Sports Live App, and must sign in with the user name and password issued by your TV provider. (A Pay TV provider list is in the app.) NBC says that starting Thursday, some cable and telecom customers will be verified automatically when they use devices at home. That’ll be nice if it works — there were hassles during the London Olympics.
NBC concedes it didn’t always make a splash in London serving up viral video content that consumers wanted to see, such as when German diver Stephan Feck landed flat on his back during the competition. It will place a bar down the left side of the NBCOlympics.com site that aims to make it easier to find memorable video highlights from Russia.
NBC is also producing fresh digital-only programming. One that sounds promising is called Gold Zone, in which NBC plans to whip you around from event to event showing the most popular live action between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET. You might be taken from a freestyle skiing final to the final moments of a crucial hockey match. NBC also plans a digital-only Olympic Ice studio show with news and highlights from figure skating events.
While you can watch live action on a phone or tablet, for many, mobile device will serve as a second screen while watching TV at home. NBC reports that about a third of its viewers who watched the Vancouver Olympics on TV simultaneously accessed Olympics content on another device. By London, that figure climbed to 54%. The Sochi Games could reach two-thirds.
In addition to its live-streaming app, NBC launched a second app that promises to deliver results and video highlights. It’s designed to be a companion to the network’s prime-time TV broadcast. You can consult TV listings, follow a live blog and more.
NBC Sports executive Rick Cordella says streaming in London had people wanting more. He claims NBC (with Microsoft’s help) is up to the task of scaling the high-quality multiple concurrent feeds that will make the streaming experience go smoothly in Russia. NBC can handle up to 25 concurrent feeds and deliver speeds up to 5.5 megabits per second, he says. “What we’re seeing here is a rising tide of digital viewership, and we’re pretty bullish on what we’ll do in Sochi.”
Let the Games begin.