The NBCOlympics.com User Experience: Not Likely to Win the Gold

There’s no denying that NBC Universal, in attempting to cover the entire scope of the Winter Olympics on and offline, has a monumental task on its hands — there are simply so many events happening on a daily basis that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Thus, in order to get a sense of the typical user experience on NBCOlympics.com this morning, I decided to keep things simple and just try and see what it would be like to watch one live-streamed event — which, by virtue of today’s schedule, ended up being the men’s curling preliminary round.

The excitement, the action, the brooms.

Starting from the beginning: Wow, the home page of NBColympics.com is a mess. There’s far too much content scattered around and none of it is presented clearly, while a single menu bar over-cluttered by options means that a site visitor has to do things like choose between “Team USA” and “Athletes” if they’re looking for particular information about a specific contender.

I clicked on the Video option in the menu bar — as that was what I was hoping to watch — but my search for curling, which began ten minutes before the event was scheduled to start, ended up taking me on a loop-de-loop through the site. Going to the the page ostensibly indexing all the available video just got me to a place where I could sign up to receive notifications of when the match started via text or email — there was no way for me to visit the page for the live event before it started, meaning that I would have to miss the first moments of the match as a result. And the page for the match I was interested in checking out got me nowhere either until about 9:10 AM, when a link to the live-stream finally appeared.

I finally found a “Watch Now” link on the Curling home page around 9:05 AM — whereupon I was then asked to go through NBC’s cable verification process.

While Time Warner’s procedure was relatively painless for me, it took approximately three or four minutes to set up my email address, confirm my cable subscription and come up with some security questions (by the way, Time Warner, it’s pretty much impossible for me to come up with unchanging answers to questions like “Who’s your favorite actor/actress?” or “What’s your favorite book?” — hopefully, I’ll never lose my password). This meant that I wasn’t able to actually start watching the match I was interested in until about 10 minutes after it started.

But once I finally got to the live streaming page for Great Britain versus Sweden, I found the actual player easy to use and manipulate forwards and backwards, though I couldn’t rewind prior to the point when I entered the match. But on a very basic player level, Vertigo and Silverlight’s development here really paid off. And clicking the Boss button was fun, though I don’t think any employer would have been fooled by my MacBook running a bare-bones Windows OS screen.

However, it turns out that, after going to all this effort, I know absolutely nothing about curling and could have really used some commentary to help me understand what was going on. (I could never have imagined missing Bob Costas as much as I did in those first moments.) For more obscure events like this, it would have been extremely helpful for NBC to at least partner with a broadcaster who would be providing live commentary. In addition, it wouldn’t be NBC’s Olympics coverage if it didn’t take frequent opportunities to cut to commercial — even in the live stream — which was fairly aggravating.

Ultimately, the quality of the player isn’t enough to make up for poorly-designed site navigation and lackluster content. And what makes going through NBC’s web presence so frustrating is that the USA, based on listings on vancouver2010.com, is one of the few countries that has only one coverage provider for this year’s games. If there were some legitimate competition between, say, two different networks over who could provide the best user experience online, I’d easily believe that NBCOlympics.com wouldn’t chafe quite so much. As it is, I’m driven to wonder how hard it’d be, really, to hide my IP address from Canada’s CTV.

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