How the world watched the Olympics online

How the world watched the Olympics online

Summary: Much has been made of NBC's Olympic numbers, which had the rights for online video in the US, and what that means for Silverlight. I thought the app was solid, the video quality was good, and all in all it was a win for Microsoft and RIAs.


How the world watched the Olympics onlineMuch has been made of NBC's Olympic numbers, which had the rights for online video in the US, and what that means for Silverlight. I thought the app was solid, the video quality was good, and all in all it was a win for Microsoft and RIAs. In that vein, I'm pretty impressed with how Adobe did across the rest of the world. The BBC in the UK and CCTV in China were both big Flash users. There were a number of other countries using Flash as well (and a couple using Silverlight). I think the numbers show that there's worldwide interest in rich media and strong adoption of Flash.

In fact, the majority of online video for the Olympics was delivered in Flash. There's a great blog post up by John O'Donovan, the Chief Technical Architect at the BBC about their Olympic numbers. For Beijing they streamed nearly 40 million videos with up to 5.5 million Olympic videos watched each day at an average of around 3 million. In total there were 6.5 million hours of video delivered using Flash by the BBC. What those numbers don't include are streams from the BBC iPlayer or the mobile platforms. It's all Flash in the browser. Compare that to 72 million videos in the states, and it shows that in a country much smaller than the US, online the Olympics was a hit.

More importantly, the numbers out of China are fantastic. In the first 10 days CCTV's website streamed Olympic coverage to 100 million people according to the New York Times (registration required). CCTV used an innovative system which combined Flash Media Server with their own P2P technology which made it easy for anyone in China to watch the Olympics regardless of bandwidth. So in China we'll have 2,900 hours of Olympic content backed up and ready to watch with Flash Video.

What's also interesting to see is how the BBC got more comfortable over the course of the Olympics with their video content. By the end of the Olympics they were actually putting the live video stream on the front page of the BBC News homepage as the lead story. That's pretty impressive and I think it's a very good sign that rich media is creeping even more deeply into a role as a primary way to consume content.

Topics: China, Software Development

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  • RE: How the world watched the Olympics online

    We had a pretty good Silverlight app here in france (, but the app has been removed since then). It seems that Silverlight is already mature enough to compete with Flash in those media-centric applications. jeeeez, they're going fast!
  • I got sick of it

    I live in Germany, and the experience sucked big time. For those of you who don't know, in Germany you pay a TV and radio tax of about 26 dollar per month to subsidize public channels. The rule is: if you have a TV, radio, or internet, you need to pay that. It doesn't matter if you don't have an antenna or cable and only use your TV for watching DVDs. TV=pay tax. This tax finances in part the official broadcaster from Germany.

    Now comes the fun: with this broadcasting rights, every country tied to a specific sender. I couldn't watch NBC or youtube transmission, they always told me "contact your local broadcaster". My favorite one was NBC asking me to install Silverlight before telling me that I couldn't watch it. I could scream loud.

    The thing is that my local broadcaster didn't have any video streaming. I pay 26 dollar/month for just the same written news that I get via any on-line newspaper.

    I first started looking for private streaming sites, but these got closed by the authorities fairly quickly. Proxies did work some times but really bad for video, if at all.

    In the end I've said "forget it". I got so sick about this Olympics, you have 50 sports, more than your eyes can watch at a time and usually showing those disciplines that no one cares about, like weight lifting. I gave them the finger, got my bicycle, and went for a 5-hour ride. It was much more fun.

    In the end, technology overloaded my patience.
  • RE: How the world watched the Olympics online

    Silverlight worked well and looked great on my Verizon DSL.

    A side note...

    Why did NBC not allow those in Canada to view Olympic videos?

    My experience with the BBC was it was not allowing videos to play in the US.
    Lost Target
    • If NBC had allowed

      people of other nations to watch Olympics at their web site, they'd run into a string of law suits from whoever owned the exclusive coverage right of those nations for hurting their business.
    • Thumbs Up for Silverlight

      I was also very pleased with Silverlight. I'm pretty sure I watched more Olympics online than I did on NBC. It allowed me to watch Softball and Baseball... as opposed to being force fed Michael Phelps.
  • Two Words

    full screen

    if anything is worth watching online it must be full screen with decent resolution

    anything else is just pretend

  • Canada's CBC also used Flash video for the Olympics

    I just got back from the Toronto Flash User Group and a company called Indusblue, that did a lot of work for CBC's Olympic website, did a presentation showing how parts of the website was built. Overall, it was a huge success for CBC, with their Olympic website averaging over 2 million unique visitors a day. Considering the fact that Canada has around 1/10 of the population of the US, the CBC was definitely a lot more successful than NBC.

    However, technology aside, similar to the BBC, the CBC had all of the live Olympic footage available right away, unlike NBC who delayed any footage they planned to air during prime time viewing. I think this also played a factor why NBC wasn't as successful as they could have been with their website.