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Olympics on the web, live, worldwide: when?

Filed in: culture, media, sports, Wed, Aug 6 2008 13:48 PT

On the eve of the first Olympics in which live and on-demand content will be available on the web in most countries, I have to wonder how long it will be until the IOC recognizes that they should no longer bother to embargo content to match the prime-time schedules of viewers around the world.

This time, broadcast licensees in many countries will be running their own Olympics video sites (and 77 more will have a YouTube channel, restricted to their countries by geolocation). This builds on the 2004 coverage, which was spectacular in the UK, thanks to the BBC, but generally pretty poor everywhere else. It served as a good proof of concept, at least. I do think, though, that the feedback this time around will be that users will be confused, or frustrated about content not being where they expect it to be, since the networks will hold on to it until it’s been broadcast.

Hardcore Olympics fans don’t care when it’s prime time. And they get impatient when they know the event is finished, but still, they don’t see the results. On top of that, we have time-shifting technology, which evens out the playing field for everyone. So when will the IOC finally realize what’s good for them, and require broadcasters to show events online, in real time?

My guess is no later than 2016. Beijing is the largest experiment yet in web video, and they’ll have enough time to learn in time for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver/Whistler. The Winter Games are much smaller, in terms of events, participants and viewers, so this could be a great dry run. London hosts in 2012, and their infrastructure is probably much better suited to a widescale video deployment. My only question is whether there are too many signed agreements already, which would preclude a full, real-time Games.

After London, it’s hazy. The Winter Games in 2014 are in Sochi, Russia, and even six years out, I don’t have high hopes for them to take the lead in Internet distribution. That leaves the 2016 Games, which are down to Madrid, Chicago, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. All but Rio could pull it off easily, and maybe with 8 years of preparation, Rio would be ready too.

Any longer than that, and I think people the world over will start to wonder when the Olympics, an event created to sponsor international unity, will live up to its billing and put the athletes in the spotlight, even when that spotlight falls at 3am Eastern, or Central European, or Japan Standard Time.

One Response to “Olympics on the web, live, worldwide: when?”

  1. Joshua Allen says:

    “I do think, though, that the feedback this time around will be that users will be confused, or frustrated about content not being where they expect it to be, since the networks will hold on to it until it’s been broadcast.”

    Can you clarify? Are you saying that people will get confused because the web sites will broadcast a lot of (relatively) live content, while the actual broadcast stations will hold a lot of content for prime time and inject lots of commercials? IOW, are you saying that the confusion is being created by the proliferation of choices?

    Last night, nbcolympics.com was running live streams from gymnastics, but obviously it was very late PST (8PM-midnight), so they were not going to interrupt their broadcast coverage with this. And it seems even more confusing if they start randomly bumping Will and Grace (or whatever NBC shows these days) randomly for peripheral gymnastics coverage. IOW, wouldn’t there be confusion either way? The nice thing about having the live stuff on the web is that you can do picture-in-picture and see what you want when you want, without having to mess up the programming schedule for everyone else.

    Or are you talking about getting *broadcast* as close to live as possible? In this case, we watch Chinese TV live on PPLive every day in our house anyway, so I am sure we will see much broadcast coverage of stuff which isn’t airing on NBC at that moment. I don’t regard this as particularly confusing, though, since most people aren’t interested in that — it’s just an additional choice. And of course NBC is planning on Friday to run coverage till midnight PST, so it’s not as if the option doesn’t exist.

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