For Vancouver Games, NBC Digital Streams Less, Produces More

In 2008, NBC Olympics set a precedent by streaming 2,500 hours of live content from the Beijing Games. The Winter Games offer fewer opportunities for live streaming, but that reduction in hours does not translate to a smaller workload. Instead, the NBC Digital team has added plenty of creativity to its palette, producing thousands of highlight clips, photo galleries, mobile content, and interactive gaming platforms, in addition to its streaming lineup from the Vancouver Olympics.

“Going from Beijing to here, part of the challenge is how to reduce our footprint slightly and deliver more in terms of quality,” says Perkins Miller, SVP of digital media for NBC/GM of Universal Sports. “Beijing created a little bit of runway and some precedence, so we try to make sure that, what the producers do to make the most exceptional storytelling experience on-air, we also do online. That’s why you get HD and DVR controls and all the results synchronized with video. We try to make sure it’s the most engaging experience possible.”

For the Winter Games, NBC is live streaming all of the curling and hockey matches through its Silverlight-backed player on NBCOlympics.com. That player is the same one used for NBC’s Sunday Night Football Extra online streaming, complete with DRV controls and an adaptive, HD-quality experience (up to 3.5 Mb).

Live Ads
This time around, NBC Digital also deployed live ad insertion into its streaming offerings, so advertising can be delivered both in real time and when the clips are made available on-demand.

“The live ad insertion is deployed through Toronto and is unique to broadcast in the digital stream,” Miller says. “If you watch the game as a rewind, you get full on-demand replay with advertising throughout.”

Many of those advertisements come from the same companies that advertise on the broadcast side, but the negotiations are handled independently. After the overwhelming success of NBC Olympics’ Beijing streaming experiment, NBC brings plenty of leverage to the negotiation.

“You get a very significant lift when you’re able to advertise on both platforms,” Miller explains. “We showed a 30% increase in message recall and a 40% increase in brand awareness when advertising was done on digital as well as television platforms. We went out with that message and were able to get a lot more done on the sales side.”

Digital Content, in Context
In addition to live streams and full encore presentations of every Olympic event — full on-demand video of the host feed, with commentary where available — NBC Digital is pumping out plenty of Web- and mobile-specific content.

“Some people watch twice as much television if they’re connected to digital platforms, so our job is to provide as much content and context around the games as possible,” Miller says. “That includes highlight clips, long-form video, encores, stories, biographies, live results, mobile, gaming — basically anything you can think of that surrounds our storytelling on the network and gives people a reason to touch the event.”

Ironically, with far fewer events in a Winter Games than in a summer version, Miller’s team is working just as hard in Vancouver as it did in Beijing, perhaps a bit harder.

“With fewer sports, you think it’d be easier, but it means you have to do a better job of packaging and telling stories,” Miller says. “Here, we’ve got a lot fewer hours, and we have to do a better job packaging a small amount of content.”

It’s All Relative
Make no mistake, the amount of content is still extremely large: Miller’s’ team published its 1,000th highlight clip on Day 11 of the Games. Still, fewer hours of live streaming means finding new and innovative ways to bring viewers to NBCOlympics.com and keep them there, so NBC Digital has incorporated everything from athletes’ live Twitter feeds to an increasingly popular You Be The Judge figure-skating–scoring application.

“It replicates the exact formula that the judges in the arena use to score the skaters,” Miller explains. “There’s a person live at the event that adjusts the score card in the application based on whether or not an athlete has made a jump. It’s a very serious application. Figure-skating people love it.”

Right Here, Right Now
NBC also adapts the look and feel of its site to what Olympics fans want, right now. Miller’s team does real-time reviews of searches within NBCOlympics.com and on Microsoft’s Bing engine to determine the most popular search terms of the moment. Miller’s team then dynamically changes its headlines to serve up content relevant to those search terms. Twitter key words are also monitored to see what Olympics-related tweets are most popular, and MSN click-through features are then adjusted accordingly.

“We try to make sure that we surface our content as much as possible,” Miller says. “We’re a 17-day event that has to rise up out of the ground quickly, but that’s why we partner with somebody like MSN that has 100 million people at the front door.”

NBCOlympics.com, however, has closer to 10 front doors. In addition to facilities at the International Broadcast Center in Vancouver, live ad insertion is handled in Toronto; encoding is done in Las Vegas; highlights production in Los Angeles; additional encoding in Englewood Cliffs, NJ; highlights production in New York; the Olympic Zone out of Stamford, CT; anti-piracy out of Los Angeles and London, and content management out of Torino, Italy.

Through Door No. 11 is NBC Digital’s mobile operations, stationed in Helsinki, Finland. Mobile activity for this Olympics has been staggering, as more than 60 million mobile page views were recorded through 11 days of competition, nearly doubling the 35 million total views recorded for Beijing.

“We’ve done 1.4 million video streams so far, compared with 300,000 in Beijing, just on mobile alone,” Miller says. “Our iPhone app was the number-one application in the iTunes store for a week. That showed us the power of that platform.”

Indeed, NBC Digital’s operations are proving quite powerful. Miller’s team has found a way to turn what is essentially a marketing tool into a revenue driver, and that news is as good as gold.