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The User Experience: Not Likely to Win the Gold

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There’s no denying that NBC Universal (s GE), 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 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 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, 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 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.

14 Responses to “The User Experience: Not Likely to Win the Gold”

  1. Agreed..

    Limiting viewer access to those who have a cable subscription, and not offering any other option is not in the spirit of the Olympic Games.

    Big disappointment NBC.

  2. I was really disappointed with NBC’s website for the olympic games when I first started using it. Then I went through the authorization process to watch the premium content and found out that if you don’t have some kind of television subscription you can’t get the premium content. Now I’m just pissed

    I watch all my TV on the internet so I don’t pay for cable television. I would be more than happy to pay a flat fee to see all the premium content but I guess that’s too complicated for NBC.

    I wish I could say I was surprised by this lack of quality from NBC but then they don’t have the best track record when it comes to making decisions of any kind.

  3. I had a rather lousy experience trying to watch the luge this weekend. First off, I can’t stand Silverlight (which I had to install Moonlight to use in Linux). Then when it came time to authenticate with the cableco, my account information didn’t work, so the tech had to give me a dummy account they created because of the authentication problems they had been having with NBC. When I finally got some video to load, I got commercial-5s of results-commercial. I decided at that point I’d go ahead and go do something else, and turn Silverlight off in my browser…

  4. Re: CTV’s coverage in Canada. There’s no on-going competition for Olympic broadcasting, CTV bid on the games years back and won. That competition is already over. The difference is that CTV, unlike NBC, is offering wall to wall coverage of the games. Any event can be seen live and the online streaming is extensive.

    The reason why so many channels are showing all the events in Canada is because CTV is using almost all the available channels they own to broadcast the Olympics. Even channels like MuchMusic are broadcasting concerts from the games. In addition, since there are more events than CTV has channels they want to fill, they have worked out a deal and licensed out many events to a RIVAL channel, Rogers Sportsnet. In the end, it’s a win-win for all involved.

  5. Here, in Canada, I’ve been able to watch events on

    First, I am amazed at the quality of the image over adsl.

    Second, I can choose to watch the CTV feed with the announcers, but I have discovered that I really love the excellent coverage of the events WITHOUT the so-called expert commentary. (My own comments, and those with me in the room are always better than a sportscaster.) We hear the same sounds the crowds hear, and that includes the public address announcements. (The woman announcing in the figure skating arena has an excellent PA voice!)

    Third, I appreciate being able to watch the event I choose, not what some network programmer decides for me.

    I seem to have all of the data I need: I can usually see who is performing, who is next up, intermediate and final timings, and the current standings.

    Now, if only I could choose which of the cameras at the event was on (let me be my own switcher), and let me record some bits so I could review it in slomo or stop frame… Well maybe in 4 years.

    • Our programmers own 3 or 4 stations. so they pick what they want! yeah! we get to see NO OLYMPICS! FU.U BAST…God Bless Am….yeah Right… we pay ten times for what we dont get TO SEE!! worth going hungry for!? What? Yours is the ONLY country going hungry???? the Gov., gets food…we dont…please understand , rich people get food & stuff. we dont! we are american! we are LAST in line!…YEEAAAH!!!! So glad to be able to pay our bills!!!!!! $250 for 2 weeks work! YEAHHH!!!! So worthit! Gov says we make TOO MUCH 4 help! SURE>>>RIGHT!!!Too much to eat! Havent eaten in 3 days! my son in 2! God Bless USA!