London 2012: A Streaming Event for the History Books
Nearly 160 million total streams. 64.4 million live streams. 20.4 million hours of streamed video. 9.9 million authenticated devices. When it comes to NBC Olympics’ streaming efforts during the London Games, it’s all in the numbers. And although NBC suffered its share of technical obstacles and flack from the Twittersphere, the London Olympics were, simply put, a genuine game-changer in the multiplatform delivery of live sports content.
Not only was online and mobile viewership through the roof, but audiences flocked to NBC’s tape-delayed primetime programming, putting to rest any lingering doubts that streaming major sports events cannibalizes primetime television audiences.“When you talk to people in [the industry], you are going to hear a lot of them refer to the London Olympics as an industry game-changer, and I think that’s exactly right,” says Eric Black, VP, Technology, NBC Sports and Olympics. “We saw tremendous viewership across a multiplatform landscape. When you look at how many people were streaming and using the apps and the mobile site, it was truly remarkable.”
Every Minute, Every Competition, Multiple Devices
NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Olympics Live Extra app live-streamed every single competition (the Closing Ceremony was available on NBC and NBCOlympics.com; the Opening Ceremony, only on NBC), totaling more than 3,500 hours of live video. When one considers that NBC live-streamed just over 2,000 hours in Beijing, it was obvious that Black and company needed to dramatically adjust their workflow for London.
“When you talk in terms of volume, it was substantially different [from the Beijing and Vancouver Games],” says Black. “So the workflow that we designed for live streaming, highlights creation, and other content creation was all dramatically different as a result.”
NBC streamed video from all 40 OBS-produced feeds, 11 MDS (Multichannel Distribution Service) feeds, and its six linear-network feeds (NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Telemundo) live through NBCOlympics.com and the Live Extra app. All feeds originated from the International Broadcast Center in London and were delivered over two fully redundant fiber paths back to New York, where the signal was prepped for broadband and mobile distribution, as well as replicated for NBC’s Highlights Factory operation at 30 Rock.
Sony, YouTube Help Pave the Way
This entirely file-based workflow was facilitated largely by Sony’s Media Backbone Conductor, which served as the orchestration and automation platform for all new-media and broadband distribution of the Games.
NBC Olympics also partnered with YouTube to provide the video player and transcoding technology, as well as the bulk of the hosting and infrastructure for all NBCOlympics.com streaming. YouTube promoted NBCOlympics.com’s content from YouTube.com, although no actual Olympics competition content was available on the site.
Two Apps With No Shortage of Content
Fans were not limited to their laptops and desktops in accessing London Games content. NBC worked with Adobe to create the NBC Olympics Live Extra app and the NBC Olympics app for the iPad, iPhone, and selected Android tablets and smartphones.
The Live Extra app live-streamed every competition and provided multiple concurrent streams for selected sports, such as gymnastics (each apparatus), track and field (each event), and tennis (up to five courts). Meanwhile, the NBC Olympics app provided a variety of other content, including short-form highlights, event schedules, TV and online listings, results, athlete profiles, columns, and a Primetime Companion feature.
The apps were built using a number of Adobe technologies, including Creative Suite 6, Acrobat, Flash Builder, and Flex. Essential to the building of the apps, however, was Adobe AIR, the company’s mobile-application framework that enables NBC Olympics to reuse existing code across multiple platforms rather than build native applications for each device.
“We looked at each of the devices separately,” says Black. “When you talk about adaptive-bitrate delivery to the desktop, that is very different than to a phone. We looked at specific use cases and picked encoding profiles based on the device. We were trying to tailor the experience to each of these devices.”
To be able to use the NBC Olympics Live Extra app, users had to be a subscriber of a cable package that included CNBC and MSNBC. By leveraging Adobe Pass, NBC Olympics was integrated with more than 100 pay-TV operators in the U.S., allowing users to provide their subscription login and password only once to access live Olympics content. This keep-it-simple tactic resulted in viewers’ verifying 9.9 million devices for NBCOlympics.com or the Live Extra app, the most device verifications ever for a single event in TV Everywhere history, according to NBC.
“The concept around [the apps] was how to efficiently deliver more than 3,500 hours of live content and countless hours of VOD content through the application, while also making the authentication experience as painless as possible,” says Black. “We worked to make sure everything worked as seamlessly and smoothly as possible. And when you look at the numbers, you see that we had tremendous success across the board on those goals.”
Adobe also powered video-ad insertion through Auditude and digital analytics through SiteCatalyst. Throughout the two-plus weeks of competition, NBC Olympics was able to measure user traffic and engagement with all aspects of the two apps and improve the experience if need be.
All Eyes on Rio
Although the eight-hour time difference (from Eastern Time) and the lower profile of the Winter Olympics make it doubtful that NBC will be able to match this monumental multiplatform viewership at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro promise one of the most enticing digital properties ever.
Consider that NBC more than doubled its total video streams (159.3 million vs. 75.5 million) and total hours of video streamed (20.4 million vs. 9.9 million) from the Beijing Games. In addition, live viewing skyrocketed, with total live streams up 353% over Beijing (64.4 million vs. 14.0 million streams) and total live hours up 340% (13.6 million vs. 4.0 million).
With these eye-popping numbers in mind, expect the time-zone–friendly Rio Games to take the next step and deliver record-breaking cross-platform consumption.
“This is a game-changer for us in terms of how and where people consume and access content, but this goes beyond just NBC,” says Black. “You will see this all play out further over the next 12-24 months. As you look towards the volume of content being produced and how people are consuming it, it will certainly change the industry in terms of how we produce content.”
Brandon Costa and Karen Hogan contributed to this article.