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Olympic Video Online: Cord-Cutters are Out of Luck

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In a historic first for streaming media, NBCUniversal has committed to streaming all 302 events and all 32 sports at the 2012 London Olympics online. From the Opening Ceremonies on July 27 to the Closing Ceremonies on August 12, 2012—and for everything in-between—Olympics fans will be able to log onto NBCOlympics.com for their video fix. The network estimates that, when all is said and done, it will have offered more than 3,500 hours of Olympic streaming media online.

As well, NBCOlympics.com will live stream NBCUniversal cable channels NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, and Bravo. There will also be two "Live Extra" apps made available in both smartphone and tablet formats. The first app will feature live video streams from London. The second app will offer short-form highlights, schedules, results, and columns; making it ideal for "second screen" viewers already watching the Games on TV.

The catch: The vast majority of NBCOlympics.com’s streaming media—branded as ‘NBCOlympics Live Extra"—will only be available to people who are already registered subscribers to cable, satellite, and/or telco carriers who offer MSNBC and CNBC on their systems. Would-be viewers will need to prove their paying status when they try to access to NBCOlympics.com’s streaming media feeds.

“Access to certain live events requires verification that you have an active subscription with your TV provider, we must ask that you validate your account,” explained the FAQ. “When prompted, select your Pay TV provider. You will be asked to enter your Pay TV username and password; similar to when you pay your bill online.”

“If you don't have an online account with your Pay TV provider of (sic) just can't remember your username and password, you can create one here,” continues the FAQ. “After you have successfully signed in, you can gain access to all of the content on this site.”

So what happens to people who watch NBC off-air? “You will still be able to view exclusive Highlights, Recaps, Interviews, News, Results, Features Athlete Bios, Photo Galleries and other content at NBCOlympics.com,” says another FAQ. “You just won’t be able to view live and full event replay video.”

Help from YouTube, Brightcove, deltatre, and Adobe

Although Olympic live feeds will not be seen on its website, YouTube is playing a big role in NBCUniversal’s Olympic coverage. In fact, the Google-owned company will be hosting NBCOlympics.com’s video feeds and providing the site’s video player.

Of course, the viewers won’t see all of these happening. They’ll just know that the website they are accessing—NBCOlympics.com—is giving them the video and second-screen content they are seeking, whether it be on PC, smartphone, or tablet.

This website is the work of deltatre; a web design firm based in Torino, Italy. They have has created notable sports websites such as FIFA.com, UEFA.com, BBC.co.uk/Olympics and CTVOlympics.ca.

“We expect that 25 to 50 percent of the Olympic streaming media consumed this time around will be on devices such as smartphones and tablets,” predicts Ciaran Quinn, deltatre’s director of Olympics & strategic business.  “This is why—when you add in our other Olympic websites for customers such as the BBC, France Televisions, RTVE Spain and the Latin American digital media company Terra—we have upwards of 200 people working on the Olympics.” (Note: NBCOlympics does not agree with deltatre's prediction, although they are not offering one of their own.)      

According to a deltatre news release dated October 18, 2011, NBCUniversal “is thrilled to have renewed our long partnership with deltatre,” said NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel. “They continue to be the gold standard in digital sports media platform development.”

In the run-up to the London Games, the Universal Sports Network (USN; a partnership between NBC Sports and private equity fund InterMedia Partners) has been providing a wide range of Olympic-focused features on streaming media. They include the "Road to London" series, looking at how U.S. athletes have been preparing for the Games, plus coverage of numerous Pre-Olympic competitions. As with NBCOlympics.com, the site requires users to sign in to get full access to all of its content—and requires those users to be cable/satellite/telco service subscribers.

USN is providing its Olympic-themed content using the Brightcove Video Cloud online video platform. This software has been integrated into USN’s existing WordPress content management system; making all of Video Cloud's features and functionality available within USN’s WordPress environment.

"Brightcove Video Cloud plays an instrumental role in meeting our aggressive requirements to offer significant quantities of both live and on-demand video content across multiple screens," said Elliott Gordon, VP/GM of digital for Universal Sports, in an April 18 Brightcove news release. "Video Cloud also gives us access to critical analytics and reporting tools that we use to measure the performance of our programming and fine-tune content to best meet the demands of our passionate audience and dedicated advertiser base."

To ensure an optimal viewing experience, Video Cloud’s Smart Player application is automatically detecting what device and bandwidth a viewer is using. Meanwhile, Adobe Pass is  handling the authentication of each USN applicant against databases of cable, satellite, and telco subscription credentials. Approved viewers will be able to then select and subscribe to sports-specific video packages, through a CSG International content management platform.

“Once each live stream is under our control, we transcode it and distribute it via USN’s CDN partner for distribution over that last mile,” said Chris Johnston, Brightcove’s director of digital media solutions, in an interview with StreamingMedia.com. (At press time, Johnston did not know who USN’s CDN partner is.)

The Broadcast Tie-In

Judging by the NBCOlympics.com subscriber access requirement, NBCUniversal is using the 2012 London Olympics to push viewers to its many television properties. The vast majority of these properties are only available on cable, satellite, and telco carriers.

This approach should increase revenues paid to NBCUniversal by signal distributors who redistribute this content over their TV systems. In fact, given the U.S. audience’s historic passion for the Olympics, this strategy could be a real money-maker for the network; and help boost its television ad revenues by driving up viewership.

This explains why—even with its historic commitment to streaming the Olympics—NBCUniversal is loading many of its television properties with Olympic content.

The numbers are staggering: All told, NBCUniversal will be presenting 5,535 hours of games coverage across NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Telemundo, two specialty channels, and its first-ever 3D platform, as well as NBCOlympics.com.

The flagship NBC network will broadcast 272.5 hours of London Olympic coverage over 17 days; nearly 50 hours more than the 225 hours daily average from Beijing in 2008. Weekday coverage will start at 10 a.m. after NBC News’ Today show, which will be originating from London. Weekend coverage will start as early as 5 a.m.

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