Blog Post

Does the Olympics Video Suck For You Too?

Admit it. These Olympics have been awesome so far. The mind-blowing opening ceremony. Michael Phelps. The breadth of games covered. All wrapped up in an HD bow. Too bad the online experience doesn’t even merit a bronze medal.

Let’s set aside the bone-headed decision to delay the web video coverage for popular events until after the already delayed West Coast coverage. Yes, that sucks. I’m talking more about the video player.

As we’ve written before, just getting the video from the games to your PC is an Olympic task. But all that effort is going to waste. I tried watching these Olympics online at different points throughout the weekend and just gave up to watch it on oldteevee. Here are some of the big issues:

1. Video presentation. This was supposed to be a big coming out party for Microsoft’s Silverlight. The quality is adequate, but the video doesn’t play full-screen and it fails to capture the energy and excitement, especially for events that don’t have a lot of close-ups (try watching field hockey). And the four simultaneous streams option shrinks the videos so small it’s pointless.

2. No commentary. Yeah, sure. Web video means that you can actually watch archery for the first time, but there are no announcers providing commentary, so I don’t know what’s going on. What’s happening? Why is it happening? Don’t know. This is especially bad in between matches like fencing. There is just a shot of an empty court (is that what they call it in fencing?). No indication as to what’s going on or what’s coming up.

"As Seen On" coverage from Day 2
"As Seen On" coverage from Day 2

3. Poor navigation. Events aren’t always labeled properly (men’s archery is listed as “Men’s Team Event”). In the “As Seen on TV” option, where you can watch the games as they were broadcast on oldteevee, there’s only one video from Day 2 (trap shooting), and six videos from Day 1. Yeah, preeeeeetty sure there were more than seven televised events over the weekend.

Unfortunately, NBC doesn’t have much incentive to change its behavior. The games have been exciting and a ratings monster for the network. racked up 70 million pageviews on Friday, and 4.8 million people watched 3.1 million video streams on Saturday.

This could have been a golden moment for online video — too bad NBC just couldn’t stick the landing.

68 Responses to “Does the Olympics Video Suck For You Too?”

  1. I was never able to get any online video working during the Beijing Olympics, and the Silverlight failure continues for the Vancouver games. If they weren’t in bed with MS, NBC would get smart and use YouTube.

  2. Yeh, so I’ve installed in a vain attempt to watch the Argentina v. USA basketball game and I wouldnt mind watching sans commentary or even lower quality, if the video went beyond the first GE ad. Tried firefox first and realized that MS may have a built-in incompatibility, so I tried IE and the same deal. As it stands it seems like ploy to have me sit through 4 GE ads… bait and switch indeed.

  3. Online is frustrating since you can’t fast forward like a DVR. You can jump ahead but you have no idea what you missed and then it takes a while for the video to pop up. Still in its infancy but better than nothing.

  4. Now you can watch Michael Phelps’s winning lap at the Olympics, anywhere, anytime, on your mobile phone (Windows Mobile or Symbian). Skyfire, the free internet browser for mobile phones, streams you videos of Olympics coverage provided by NBC (and also on Youtube,, etc.) For a limited time only, Skyfire is available- at the beta code, type: “Michael8”. Catch The Games on your mobile for free at

  5. NBC’s “America is got talent” is LIVE after the Olympics!, WTF.
    they don’t broadcast live Olympic events when all the talents are over in Beijing Olympic.

  6. Aaah….when I clicked on this linkthrough I was just new the crux would center around Silverlight and Microsoft. People need to get over this company already and just fucking enjoy technology.

    I swear these people won’t be happy until NBC released it with fairplayDRM in .MOV only through iTunes…so they feel elegant. GTF over yourselved already. Seriously….Compared to Real and shitty interent broadcasts of Sydney and Athens this is practically heaven.

  7. There are several workarounds to force the player to “full screen” even on a big monitor. I have a blog article listing them: ( As others have said, the lack of full screen in the stock site is NOT a technical issue with Silverlight. In fact you can change just two lines of CSS styling with a bookmarklet or personal style sheet and easily go full screen. The higher bitrate videos look great at 1600×1200.

  8. This is the WORST olympics coverage ever. I cannot believe they did not show the 100m mens track finals live. I heard it from a friend on my way home from work. HORRIBLE!!!! NBC please understand Michael Phelps is not the only athlete in the olympics. Props to him for the 7 seven medals but the other thousands of athletes have worked hard too. As a matter of fact I am blocking NBC from my Satellite stations. THEY REALLY SUCK!!!

  9. “I’m sure quality and full-screen were higher level decisions and not limitations of the player. We disallow full-screen for our broadcasts as well, as all you have to do then is turn that full-screen feed into the input of another encoder and you’re rebroadcasting and saving NBC’s coverage. That and you lose the critical sight of advertising.”

    That’s not a very good reason. First, who would actually do that? Second, they could just use an encoder that captures part of the screen. Or better yet, just capture the raw video stream.
    And the only time I’d want to capture a video stream is if fullscreen playback isn’t allowed. That includes videos which are encoded letterboxed so I have to watch them with a black border all around on my 16×10 screen. The advertising issue is a good point, but you could use embedded advertising like Hulu.

    Or simply let it scale. The South Park online videos don’t allow fullscreen either, but I can put my browser into fullscreen mode and then click expand video and it almost fills up the screen. Why should the video be limited to only 1/4 of my screen size while the browser window doesn’t even take up the full screen?

  10. spurrunner

    NBC gets 65% on coverage of online Olympics.
    Some events OK
    Many events POOR

    I’m a Track Fan. Would like to see more of all events. Prelims, qualitfying, semis, and Finals.

    Just put a camera inside stadium at finish line and show all. Dont’ need any stinkin’ commentary.

    If event (especially those with USA entries) aren’t shown on television, THEN SHOW IT ONLINE.


  11. duddits

    I was hot about no PPC for a bit. After a count to 100 I figured app developers are busy doing PPC –> Intel. So why would M$ do the reverse for 1st D&P show in a while?

    Yes, the PPC G4 & G5 can handle the load
    monster plugin number-munching puts on a
    processor. Microsoft gets no benefit doing
    Velocity Engine at the same time they are fussing with Intel SSE (same but different design) instruction set. Something like that
    24″ iMac (Intel) anyone?