Tech Test: NBC's live Olympics video streaming online a great effort
BY ANICK JESDANUN Associated Press
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
8/01/12 at 3:22 AM
Soccer and balance beam gymnastics on the desktop. Swimming and badminton on the laptop. Boxing on the iPhone. Gymnasts' floor exercises on the iPad. Vault routines on an Android phone. And rowing on TiVo.
Welcome to the Olympics of the digital age.
For the first time, NBC Sports is showing all competition and medal ceremonies live over the Internet in the U.S. The unprecedented online coverage addresses one of my biggest gripes with Olympics coverage in past years: NBC used to withhold the popular sports for prime-time television and show them on a delayed basis.
At one point, I had seven live streams going at once, plus NBC's TV broadcast recorded on my digital-video recorder. I got flustered with all the choices in no time, but I appreciate having the choice to view any event live. Tape delay doesn't work anymore. It's especially compounded by the five-hour time difference between New York and London.
Although the coverage at NBCOlympics.com isn't flawless, it's the network's best effort yet. It's also the first time live video is extending to mobile devices, through apps for Apple and Android phones and tablet computers.
So get up at 3 a.m. on Thursday to watch an elimination round in women's archery. Or watch the woman's marathon in its entirety at 5 a.m. Sunday. Some sports offer multiple feeds, so you can keep watching the javelin throw even if everyone else turns to Usain Bolt on the track.
All this is free, but there's a big catch: You must have a TV subscription with a cable, satellite or phone company at a service level that comes with CNBC and MSNBC.
I was able to watch live video once I verified my cable account (for Time Warner Cable, I simply had to enter the same username and password used to access bills). It's something I'm supposed to have to do only once per computer or mobile device, though I ran into a few hiccups because of cookie settings on my browser. If you have trouble, you can get a one-time, four-hour pass for free while you figure it out.
If you still get television over the air or don't even own a TV set, you'll be able to access non-video features, but videos will be limited to highlights, previews and other clips. Full-length video won't be available until two days after an event takes place.
Most of the video streams allow you to rewind the action. Start from any point if you are joining late or after an event is over, or hit a replay button to go back several seconds.
The exceptions are with high-profile sports such as swimming and gymnastics. If you missed it, you typically must wait for television - or the next day online.
That limit didn't annoy me as much as I would have thought. The video streams are broadcast-quality, and they include multiple camera angles, graphics and instant replays. So as long as I'm online when the event is taking place, I can rewatch the key moments. Plus, it's better than not having high-profile events live at all, as was the case in the past.
The video has been sharp and smooth, with a few exceptions when watching a high-interest sport such as swimming. I was willing to overlook that when so much else worked glitch-free.
One of the big questions many people have is whether online streaming will cut into television audiences. NBC and its owner, Comcast Corp., are gambling that it won't.
I have to agree. I found myself rewatching many of the events that I had already seen online, as the broadcast comes with extras such as profiles, interviews and cutaways to parents cheering in the stands.
NBC is also a pro when it comes to dramatizing the Olympics. Prime-time TV had cameras glued to gymnast Jordyn Wieber crying after she failed to advance to the all-around finals. The online stream had some of that, but it also cut to the British team and the crowds and didn't feel as voyeuristic.
I welcome all the Internet coverage, but there's room for both. Confounded with all those choices online, I sometimes found it nice to just sit back and let the producers take over.
Original Print Headline: Live Olympics online a good call
An NBC Sports website shows live Olympic gymnastics coverage on Sunday. For the first time, NBC Sports is showing all competition and medal ceremonies live over the Internet. Associated Press