19 Aug

The Olympics

You gotta see the video of Shelly-Ann Fraser’s interview after winning the 100-meter dash. Braces + big smile + Jamaican accent = very cute.

NBCOlympics.com - 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games | Free Online Videos, Olympic Event | Athlete Interviews | NBC Olympics
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NBC is almost getting it right. Almost. You can watch videos of Olympics online, but only if you install some Microsoft product. You also have to sit through ads before any video you watch, and occasionally as interruptions of longer videos, but I can understand all that. What they’re finally doing successfully is they’re making it easier to see any and every sport you wish to see. The mainstream media has been very slow to catch on to effective use of the internet for events like the Olympics. The Tour de France has always flirted with online re-broadcasts, but they’ve never really done enough. I’m sure there’s some sort of economic reason — French TV probably negotiates with various networks around the world (like the sub-par Versus network which airs the Tour in the US), and they most likely don’t want their potential viewers stolen by the web.

But it makes a lot of sense to offer archives of sports since they have such a limited broadcast life. People don’t want to see re-runs of most competitions. You’re not going to watch the quarterfinals of last year’s March Madness multiple times, are you? But you might want to see re-broadcasts soon after the original one. In fact, the networks don’t have much to lose by posting videos on the internet 30-60 minutes after the original, do they? The initial TV broadcast is still optimal (since sports watchers need to know the results live, it seems), but a quickly-available internet archive of those events would be cheap and would only bring in more revenue if you do what NBC has been doing with the advertising.

This is really the first Olympics where I’ve been able to watch most of the sports I’d like to see. Swimming and gymnastics are fine, but if all that drama gets to be too overdone (what network hasn’t milked the Olympics for all the sap it can?), I can opt for rowing or equestrian or sabre. Or I can re-watch the men’s 4×100 meter relay (best finish ever).

So what NBC is doing is a step in the right direction, but it is slightly flawed in a couple of ways. First off, when you’re searching for videos, it’s nearly impossible not to have the results announced to you multiple times. The videos themselves are often labeled not as “The women’s 100-meter dash,” but instead as something like “Shelly-Ann Fraser wins the women’s 100-meter dash and leads Jamaica in a clean sweep of the medals.” This really sucks if you missed the TV broadcast of Michael Phelps’ 100-meter butterfly (best finish ever) and you don’t know who won. Or if you missed Benjamin Boukpeti’s K1 whitewater final (best finish ever), in which he won Togo’s first medal in Olympic history.

The other thing that needs some improvement is the navigation. The Microsoft Silverlight player allows you to get to the sports you want to see (see below for navigation page). But you need a ridiculously fast connection to be able to handle the buffered video. (I haven’t tried the PIP option, but that seems even more ridiculous. Who would use PIP for anything but live TV?) And your choices are limited to 11 videos. Eleven videos that NBC chooses for you, making it hard to find videos for specific events.

NBCOlympics.com - 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games | Free Online Videos, Olympic Event | Athlete Interviews | NBC Olympics

With a little more user control and with fewer spoilers, the Olympics online could thrive. They can even continue to offer commentary-free video (which is what most of the online content is) so that people are drawn to the TV to hear the experts’ assessments. I still prefer the TV broadcasts. But it’s nice to be able to dig up things like Shelly-Ann Fraser’s post-race interview so you can show everyone how cute she is.

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