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NBC, the Olympics and the Internet

I have been far from nice when it comes to my opinion of NBC's understanding of the power of the Internet when it comes to Olympic coverage. Six years ago I had the Pollyannaish view that NBC would stumble on the Internet when it next broadcast the Olympics. ("The last pre-Internet Olympics?") I was wrong and complained again the next time the Olympics came around ("NBC Olympic coverage: Is the Internet the enemy?").

Now it is just about time for the next round of the Olympics (this summer in London) and NBC finally seems to have gotten some clue.

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NBC has announced that it will be doing 3,500 hours of live streaming, including all 32 sports and all 302 medal events. NBC will be doing this only to the United States due to the license it bought from the Olympics; other broadcasters will be providing various levels of streaming in their own licensed areas. This part is good news. It has taken NBC a very long time to understand that people do like live events and withholding such coverage to parcel it out in prime time mostly annoyed people and likely did not change the prime time audience all that much.

One feature of the NBC plans, though, indicates that the network still does not understand its viewers or the Internet.

You can only get the live NBC streaming if you are a subscriber to one of 22 "participating cable, satellite or iTV providers." Woe be to you if you watch TV over the air. Deep down, or maybe not so deep down, by putting on this restriction NBC is admitting that its own Olympic coverage is not good enough to attract viewers on its own and it needs to distort things (and likely funnel ads) to make back its huge investment in the games. If the prime time coverage were any good, letting people see what was coming in a little PC window would encourage them to tune in. But, unless NBC has exchanged its DNA for a new set, the coverage will be the same over-produced, vastly over-talked about and over-analyzed Vegas-style extravaganza it has been since NBC got the franchise.

Despite the restrictions, this is far better than what NBC has done to date. A lot of people will be watching a lot of coverage on their office computers -- be ready for a spate of news articles detailing how many millions of dollars in wasted employee time this will mean. It will also be producing a lot of Internet traffic.

The English government has warned the public of a possible Internet meltdown because of people watching the BBC streaming coverage. For its part, the BBC has estimated that it will be producing 1Tbps of traffic at peak.

As much as the NBC announcement indicates that some clue has managed to penetrate NBC's previously impenetrable Internet clue shield, another announcement by the London organizers demonstrated that clues can't get everywhere.

The terms and conditions attached to purchasing tickets to the Olympics say that "Images, video and sound recordings of the Games taken by a Ticket Holder cannot be used for any purpose other than for private and domestic purposes and a Ticket Holder may not license, broadcast or publish video and/or sound recordings, including on social networking websites and the Internet more generally."

Let me understand this: A ticker holder will be banned from posting videos on Twitter or Facebook -- taken via a cellphone from his far away seat in the stadium that shows ant-like athletes engaged in what looks like Brownian motion -- because this is such a significant threat to TV broadcasters with their huge and expensive telephoto lenses that can highlight the sweat on the brow of a runner in full stride? Give me a break. This is off the charts of dumb. I'd say that they were on another planet but it would have to be a planet orbiting a star in another galaxy.

Disclaimer: Harvard astronomers have been successfully looking for such planets for a while now, but even they would not be able to find such a small chunk of clue, even if it were in the car next to them. Actually, maybe the Olympics in general is a clue black hole. In any case, the above clue report is mine alone.

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

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