Cue the Strangelove Moment: Media & Entertainment Year in Review

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Oprah went on to say that the number of original viewers—noted at more than 500,000 simultaneous views, a new record—had been dwarfed by the number of viewers who watched the live event later. More than 1.5 million streams and downloads took place in the days following the live broadcast, and while Oprah said she continues to be assured that capacity was not the issue and that "the team believes we are good to go for another try," she also slightly changed her tone to set expectations for potential future sessions.

Figure 2
Figure 2. The first episode of Oprah Winfrey’s A New Earth webcast logged more than a half-millionviewers, according to the show.

"If you are willing to partner with me in exploring this new frontier," Oprah wrote, "I’ll see you in class live on Monday. Otherwise, you can stream or download the class on Tuesday or whenever it’s convenient. I leave it to you to experience the class in whatever way works best."

Classes continued for 9 weeks with an average of 180,000 simultaneous streams after the initial issue, a coding error, was resolved.

Webcasting the Olympics
Next up was another high-profile event, the Olympics. In China alone, it is estimated that 100 million streams were viewed over a 10-day period, with the BBC reporting 40 million stream views and the U.S. about 72 million stream views. All in all, the Olympics set both online viewing records and entrenched several nascent business models.

Even prior to the Olympics, the state-run Chinese television station CCTV was flexing its muscle in the online space, warning would-be online broadcasters of the consequences of going outside official channels to obtain the streams.

"CCTV was granted the exclusive rights to conduct live streaming of the August Olympics in the Chinese mainland and Macao over the internet and mobile phones," said Hu Zhanfan, vice president of CCTV International. "Even local TV stations that have live streaming rights for TV are not entitled to transmit the Olympics on their websites or other mobile platforms."

Zhanfan is also deputy director of the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT), the Chinese ministry responsible for program licensing, so his warning also carried an official announcement that SARFT would monitor local stations and commercial websites.

"Violators will be warned and punished," Zhanfan said, "and their bad records will be linked to approval of future program licenses."

In the U.S., NBC didn’t have quite the clout of a government official, but it successfully defended its turf by broadcasting almost two-thirds of the Olympic coverage. Viewers of some of the less-popular content took umbrage at NBC’s decision not to broadcast or stream everything—CCTV.com streamed more than 3,800 hours of live coverage, 1,600 more than NBCOlympics.com—and went looking for alternate streams from other countries. But overall, the concept of locking down a series of large, live events to a particular provider in a particular geography took hold during these two major events.

Microsoft also helped out, using the Olympics as a test for its Silverlight 2 beta rollout. Like the Oprah event, which was pitched in Flash but required the download of the Move Networks plug-in, many viewers were willing to download the Silverlight plug-in to be able to watch Olympics content.

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