Let the Games Begin!

Friday night kicked off the opening ceremonies of the XXI Games of the Winter Olympiad in Vancouver, British Columbia. This has ushered in a new era of internet based video experiences using Silverlight and IIS Smooth Streaming that will give viewers unparalleled video quality and interactivity, as well as breaking ground in monetization opportunities for broadcasters.

It was just four short years ago at the last Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy where U.S. audiences saw the first live video streaming with NBC’s online coverage of the men’s gold medal hockey game. Two years later at the Beijing Summer Olympics the amount of content that NBC made available grew exponentially to 4,400 hours of on-demand streaming and 2,200 hours of live programming. Now less than two years after Beijing the focus shifts from the amount of content available to how viewers interact with the content and the richness of the experience.

For online viewers of the Vancouver Olympics on NBCOlympics.com, there are a ton of great new features that will be sure to keep viewers engaged. The content itself will be streamed in up to full HD 720p quality using our IIS Smooth Streaming technology, which provides the highest quality video to each viewer based on their individual network, CPU, and other conditions. When coupled with the Microsoft Silverlight-based player, IIS Smooth Streaming provides amazing DVR-like functionality. For example, viewers have the ability to start watching live events even after they have begun, but they can rewind the video to points earlier than where they started watching, even all the way back to the beginning. In addition to the being able to pause a live event, viewers will also have variable speed fast-forward and rewind functionality, instant replay, and slow motion for reviewing events that happen quickly.

Outside of the “trick play” modes like slow motion, one of the hottest things that the new Vancouver Olympics Silverlight player will have is integration and synchronization of play-by-play information right into the player’s timeline. For example, if you start watching a hockey game well into the first period, you’ll be able to review the play-by-play history right in the player and see significant events, like a goal having been scored, notated right on the player timeline. Clicking on either the play-by-play description or the timeline marker will cause the video to seek right to that event.

We’ve also made it easier for viewers to explore content related to what they’re currently watching. For example, if you’re watching a video that shows Apolo Ohno you can quickly explore a list of all available videos that feature Apolo Ohno. Viewers can also easily explore videos by various categories like most popular, featured, by sport, by athlete, etc.

On the business side of things, a number of enhancements have been made in order to help broadcasters generate more revenue. For example, broadcasters will now have the ability to insert advertisements during breaks in the action instead of only at the beginning of the viewing experience as was the case for the Beijing coverage. Additionally, highlight clips are one of the most popular forms of video content, so we’ve provided the broadcasters with a Silverlight based rough cut editor that gives them the ability to quickly generate and post highlight clips to the broadcaster’s website. The photo viewer mentioned above also provides more fluid mechanisms for advertisements to be shown to viewers which lead to higher revenues.

There is also a Silverlight based photo viewer that lets viewers explore collections of images very easily and also lets them zoom into pictures using Silverlight’s DeepZoom functionality to get higher levels of detail.

It would not have been possible to put an event like the Olympics online without the help of many partner companies. We’ve been working on the implementation of this project for nearly a year now and the results are a testament to the hard work, dedication, and vision of all of the people involved. Akamai, Conviva, Deltratre, Inlet, iStreamPlanet, PreEmptive Solutions and Vertigo all played a role in bringing the Games to the Web seamlessly. With an event as important as the Olympics, it’s great to have partners like these.

One such key partner, iStreamPlanet, has been immersed in rigorous testing and preparation, and is ready to do its part in the Winter Olympics videocast. iStreamPlanet will be handling the video feeds coming in over IP and satellite as well as the encoding, which will all be done in IIS Smooth Streaming. There are 23 NBC feeds coming in via IP from Vancouver and 5 CTV feeds coming in over satellite. iStreamPlanet’s Webcast Operation Center has the capability to acquire, encode and monitor up to 30 simultaneous HD feeds. The ability to handle so many simultaneous feeds was a requirement for such a large scale event.

iStreamPlanet’s entire process is automated. This includes not just the content acquisition and encoding but also video routing, failover and redundancy, live-to-video on-demand transitioning and resource management. The company also collaborated with Switch Communications, Intel, Arista Networks and Juniper Networks to handle the Origin from their Las Vegas facilities. The result is a fully redundant, cloud-based content origination service coupled with real-time performance monitoring, maintenance and health-checks of the Origin resources. This high-performance Origin system provides content that is both optimized for IIS Smooth Streaming and extremely scalable and robust – an absolute must for a high-demand event like the Winter Olympics, where millions of end users are expected to view content live and on-demand.

Putting an event as large and important as the Vancouver Olympics online is a can be a daunting task, but with the expertise and coordination of partners like iStreamPlanet, we have brought it to life. Check out the exciting Vancouver Olympics coverage in the United States at: http://www.nbcolympics.com/

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