NBCOlympics.com aftereffects

Some early notes, after reading ‘way too much all week…. 😉

Biggest takeaway: People like rich video experiences. The big sitback screen is still first choice… broadcast served far more traffic than Web. Pundits who argue “Web vs TV” are missing that it’s “Web *and* TV”. But when people can experience a “Video RIA” they like it. Good validation.

But when people are excluded, they don’t like it. Microsoft was heard as saying “we’re bringing Olympics to the world”, and only later people realized this was a US-only deal. Linux users were cut out, as were Mac/PPC owners. Then 10% of US broadband folks were cut out atop that. Microsoft would have drawn less criticism were they a little more realistic in setting expectations.

What are the numbers for Silverlight? Hard to say… still seem contradictory. Nielsen Online says in an Aug 13 press release that the video section of NBCOlympics.com received 2,030,000 unique visitors on Mon Aug 11. Microsoft is saying they got eight million “downloads” one day. When you combine geo-restriction, platform-restriction, and failed installations, the NBC site may have prompted a million successful installations one day. Looks teeny.

Whatever the actual numbers turn out to be, it doesn’t seem to mean much for making Silverlight deployment to the general public any more practical… a site would still have to eat those support costs. I risk turning RIAstats.com into a gaming target by mentioning it, but Saturday morning still shows less than 2% Silverlight 2 support. The DNC doesn’t seem like it will change this either. The numbers are still fuzzy, but it seems pretty clear Silverlight’s silver bullet shot blanks.

Still unclear to me is the mobile angle. Some US-oriented quotes seem to show this at 25% of the desktop browser video viewing. Considering there are probably device restrictions, atop the OS restrictions and geo-restrictions, this could be a big deal. Needs more detail.

Also unclear so far is the overall global picture, and how people worldwide actually used web video this Olympics. China has a bigger internet audience than the US, and much more interest in the games themselves… news services uniformly use Flash video these days… regional licensees seemed to mostly deliver in non-beta software their audiences could actually view… there was massive peer-to-peer delivery this time as well.

It will take awhile for the world to really understand this worldwide video event. Signs look good that it changed expectations in a positive and useful way. We humans do like smarter video. Good sign.

Two other bits this week, Microsoft-related, but not Olympics:

ECMAScript fell down and went boom. The best numbers I’ve seen show IE6 at 40% marketshare, IE7 at 40%, and Opera/Firefox/Safari/etc at 20%. That’s the real world. For the specification process, ECMAScript has been working on its next version for almost a decade. It’s been clear for a year Microsoft won’t implement it, and so the world won’t support it. End of story. HTML, CSS and JavaScript continue to evolve relatively slowly. Makes the whole VIDEO/RIA/Aurora predictions seem even more unrealistic. [nb: I rewrote this paragraph an hour after initial post.]

ISO fell down and went boom, too. Microsoft pushed through the OOXML proposal. Doesn’t matter that no one can implement it, and perhaps no one might even want to implement it… Microsoft Office is no longer barred from governmental purchase because it’s not a politically-mandated “open standard”. Circus all around on that one.

Put those two items together and it gets really silly… Microsoft saying “ooh ES4 is too hard for us to implement” (despite it being already deployed to over 90% of consumer machines today!), then pushing through “an open standard” that even they can’t implement. Just business, not personal.

Anyway, for in-the-browser delivery, it’s still “Flash Just Works”. I can understand that committed .NET developers might want to believe otherwise, and those heavily invested in cross-browser JavaScript 1.x frameworks might want to believe otherwise, but no amount of bloviation changes the basics. Adobe Flash Player provides universal publishing capability, and truly rapid evolution atop that. The Adobe Integrated Runtime is bringing this beyond-the-browser, to trusted Internet apps. Flash Just Works.

And people do indeed like live video communications. The trend’s our friend.

19 Responses to NBCOlympics.com aftereffects

  1. John Dowdell says:

    Forgot a part. A colleague of mine asked this week “Hey, wasn’t there something about social-media overlays?”, and sure enough the original announcements did list features which did not appear in the final interface:

    As a result of this unprecedented alliance, “NBCOlympics.com on MSN” will deliver:
    2,200 hours of live event video coverage, with more than 20 simultaneous live video streams at peak times
    More than 3,000 hours of on-demand video content including full-event replays, highlights, features, interviews and encore packages.
    An “enhanced playback mode” powered by Silverlight that gives users the choice of a high-quality full screen viewing experience that is as good or better than anything on the Internet today
    Unique metadata overlays powered by Silverlight that enable fans to have access not only to high quality video, but also to the wealth of related content including results, statistics, comprehensive bios, rules and expert analysis from NBC’s Olympic digital media team in Beijing
    Live video alerts so fans can stay connected to the events and teams they care most about
    Social networking features that enable fans to share aspects of their Olympic experience with friends

    Bottom line in all this: Never trust a press release. Wait for the deliverables.

  2. John Dowdell says:

    Another incidental item. Charles Cooper at CNET is among the better reporters out there, but yesterday he had a story with this line: “So where was Adobe in all this? Good question. After leaving several phone messages, I got the hint: the PR team at Adobe has decided to go into bunker mode for the duration of the games.”
    Word I heard was that there was one call, to an executive rather than PR staff, less than an hour before publication. I can see wanting to get a quote, but it seems strange to expect one company to have some comment ready on two other companies’ businesses. No big thing.
    Charles did provide another set of stats though: “NBC was more forthcoming. The network says that almost 25 million unique users have visited NBCOlympics.com on MSN during the games and so far viewed 456 million pages and watched nearly 22 million video streams.”
    Numbers like this still make me do a doubletake. The site had a unique audience of 25M (which is good), viewing an average of 18 pages apiece. But only 22M videos viewed? How many people tried, and how many unique video viewers were there? There’s a story hidden in those numbers….

  3. Scott Barnes says:

    To use your own words when you last spoke to Ted for this kind of thing:
    “..Whoa, Ted that seems harsh. Makes you sound worried and defensive…”-
    jd/adobe
    Sorry, but you do sound worried and defensive.

    Scott / Microsoft.

  4. zato says:

    The games aren’t being played just in Beijing. NBC, and their partner in propaganda, Microsoft, are playing their own games.
    We’ll never find out the real score, though.

  5. gregorylent says:

    living in india, i never found a site where i could watch in real time, nothing on the wired article worked … and the indian national broadcaster was amateur hour … so, 2008, i basically could not watch the olympics in any meaningful way
    2012?

  6. Dan says:

    I don’t know about others, but I left pretty impressed with what Silverlight could do (and yes – I use a Mac).
    The quality of the video on the site is downright stunning. I’ve probably watched 14 hours total the last few days, and haven’t had any problems with stability.
    I’ve watched live streaming events there whose quality is better than anything live I’ve ever seen before on the web. The fact that they were doing more than a dozen of these streams simultaneously (and from China) makes it even more impressive. I have worked on some FMS projects before, and let me tell you there is no way to do that with Flash at that scale and quality right now.
    The replay video quality was exceptionally good, and the adaptive streaming logic worked well. Watching a 1.5Mbit stream with smooth playback, no buffering, and no glitching while sitting in a starbucks is impressive. It was higher quality and started playing faster than Hulu.
    You are right that deployment is going to be Silverlight’s biggest issue. I didn’t find the install experience bad when I went to the site (took only a few seconds and they had a good user experience), but for low-quality video and ads that will be a big barrier to sites adopting it.
    For high quality video, though, I think the Olympics just gave Silverlight some major street credibility. I am certainly a heck of a lot more interested in it now for future projects. They showed a level of quality and capability that is lacking in Flash today, and managed to pull off one of the biggest online media events in the world pretty well. You have to give them a lot of credit for that.
    Dan
    [jd sez: It’s nice that you liked it. I still wonder what percentage who wanted to like it were able to.]

  7. Elmar Schwarz says:

    [jd sez: Spaghetti argument follows (ie, “throw strands up against the wall until one sticks”). I’m assuming the questions in it are rhetorical.]
    1. John, would you agree that this site http://os2008.nos.nl/index/live by the Dutch Public TV is in Silverlight as well? I guess there are more…
    2. Equating USA == World is a common element of US imperialism. It’s rooted in the US Christian missionary tradition, see US abortion protests in Beijing. It’s also used in many sports championships. Definitely not specific to Microsoft (who I experience to be more international and diverse than Adobe or Oracle). Plus, who at Mix08 did believe that NBC would have international rights? Frankly, John, this kind of Soviet-style propaganda doesn’t fly internationally.
    One more thing about Adobe Media Player: you guys did very clever marketing here by [initially] not restricting content that clearly was US-only (and telling journos about it — search for example Spiegel.de). I *only* installed it because of that. Meanwhile everything interesting is not available on this side of the pond. As expected, but you got what you wanted: your run-time system on my computer. Reminds me to de-install tomorrow…
    3. Don’t tell me about being multi-platform. Acrobat Reader still has an awkward, “somehow not native” feel to it on Windows, and always was a late comer on Linux. Microsoft is working on the multi-platform story with Novell, and how many people want to watch Olympics on Linux, anyway?
    The real story is that people want to watch Olympics on big screen HD TVs, see Bitchmeme.

  8. Rick Mason says:

    I haven’t been able to watch the Olympics on NBC’s site at all. In fact, on three different computers I’ve never been able to get Silverlight to work. It always crashes on me.

  9. Drake Ackerman says:

    John,
    Sorry to say this but your post really sounds like sour grapes to me. You are calling Elmar Schwarz comment as Spaghetti argument, for what reason?
    In fact it really sticks to your post at the top!!!
    Do you have ANY answer for gregorylent’s comment:
    “there is no way to do that with Flash at that scale and quality right now.” [jd sez: Not sure what the rest of the sentence is, or what it matters to what I observed in the original essay. I’ve no need to change his opinion.]
    BTW, as far as I remember, Flash plug-in needs to be downloaded and installed as well. I use XP and SuSE Linux on my PC in a dual boot mode. Booting in Windows XP just to watch live video stream from Olympics is a bargain.
    Drake

  10. Peter Kirn says:

    John, I’m absolutely with you until the end of this argument, and then I lose you somewhere.
    “In-browser delivery” — of *what*, exactly? If you’re talking video playback, then yeah, I actually think Adobe has every right to gloat. [jd sez: Yes, video or other Flash-like things. I’ve no need to gloat; was just observing practicality.]
    But .NET and JavaScript certainly have their place, even if their use for some rich clients is out of place. Silverlight’s jury, at best, is still out based on the NBC episode. By the same token, though, Flash doesn’t reach all devices – and as a result, isn’t the solution to everything. (Well, that doesn’t ever really happen.)
    And I’d likewise have to say, Flash, Flex, and AIR, capable as they are, aren’t capable of delivering everything in their current state. I hope we see new horizons open up. Microsoft, of course, promised all kinds of functionality for NBCOlympics that we didn’t really see. But even then, as comments here reflect, we’re likely to see not only these big frontiers on market share and basic functionality, but also quality of experience and content improvements and better delivery across devices. There are also some other frontiers to explore (better in-browser and rich-client 3D, not 2.5D, or real processing capabilities for audio and video buffers, for instance).
    As a result, I think Adobe is likely to be part of a larger, more complex ecosystem going forward, as far as mobile devices, etc. To assume Flash/Flex/AIR will be the best solution all of those problems would be, well, kind of like the hubris we just saw from Microsoft.

  11. Ray Prakash says:

    2% marketshare for Silverlight 2 ***BETA*** seems like a decent number. The total marketshare for Silverlight 1 and 2 according to RIAstats.com is 10%. Not huge either, but considering Silverlight 1 RTM has only been out for little over a year not that bad either.
    Mr. Dowdell, my friends at Germany’s largest ISV call you the Goebbels of Adobe, and I guess you’re proving it here…

  12. Scott Barnes says:

    Folks,
    We would of loved to have shown the entire world the Olympics via Silverlight, but the IOC have strict guidelines about this sort of thing and whilst folks can point their fingers at Microsoft for not opening the borders, it’s beyond both the NBC and Microsoft’s control.
    That being said, I look forward to the future of Olympic Games as I feel we’ve raised a new baseline here and despite JD’s criticism, this was a win for us (we worked hard for it as well).
    That being said, JD some friendly advice? Could you not edit the comments inline or berate folks with whom share a different opinion to yours? I know it’s your blog and you run it how you see fit, but it really devalues your ability to convey a point.
    Just my 2c on that 🙂

    Scott Barnes
    Rich Platforms Product Manager
    Microsoft.

  13. Joe says:

    Personally, I find the way you insert you put edits into your readers’ comments to be disrespectful. This is competition, please take it professionally – otherwise it just fuels religous arguments between fanboys.
    [jd sez: It’s respectful to make a main point, a strong case, too… tossing a whole bunch of weak little arguments together defuses entire conversations into side-issue confusions.]

  14. RDAC says:

    Everybody knew what MS was in it for, increase player saturation, etc. Overall, I was impressed by the performance of the player, but do I think that only Silverlight could have done that? No. Will I be developing for it? Not until the saturation rate is much higher than it is currently.
    Finally, Adobe has made more pushes for opening their formats than anyone else. If I’m going to be developing for cross platform in the future, I’m going to be using Adobe software.
    Now if you guys could just get the creative suite working in linux, I’d love ya forever…

  15. Matthew Fabb says:

    Joe: “Personally, I find the way you insert you put edits into your readers’ comments to be disrespectful.
    With JD responding to a large number of comments, I personally think responding inline makes it easier to read, rather than a large number of new posts with quotes. It’s not like JD is removing or changing what the person wrote, which I would find disrespectful. Also with the bold text, brackets and his name, makes clearly indicates that it’s him responding, so I don’t know what you and Scott have a problem with?
    A more thread like comment system with branches would be preferable, but with this flat commenting system in place I think JD’s system (which I’ve seen use elsewhere) is best for readability.

  16. Matthew Fabb says:

    Dan: “I’ve watched live streaming events there whose quality is better than anything live I’ve ever seen before on the web. The fact that they were doing more than a dozen of these streams simultaneously (and from China) makes it even more impressive. I have worked on some FMS projects before, and let me tell you there is no way to do that with Flash at that scale and quality right now.
    Well, the BBC is doing their Olympics coverage with Flash, via their iPlayer. However, there seems to have been a lot less news coverage around their solution, because their iPlayer has been around for a while now. Still, from what I’ve read the BBC’s iPlayer has managed to scale very well with high quality video. However, I don’t know how much of the BBC’s content for Olympics or other iPlayer content is live. Also, since the BBC blocks non-UK IP’s there’s no way for me to test it myself and so the best I can do is get the accounts of others. Same thing with the NBCOlympics.com, since I live in Canada and so all I can do is poke around the Silverlight application, but can’t actually play any video, just read other people’s accounts. However, there have been many complaints from some about how low quality the video is, even those with high speed Internet access.
    Also something I read about but didn’t view myself was the live footage of the US Open, which was done using Flash video. Internet traffic was so high when Tiger Woods was playing that some security engineers thought this was some sort of DDoS attack (http://asert.arbornetworks.com/2008/06/the-tiger-effect ). Now I have no idea what the streaming quality was, but I think that certainly proves that live Flash video can certainly scale.
    As far as video is concerned the only thing I’m aware that Silverlight 2 can do that Flash 9 can’t is the adaptive video stream. However, that can be both a plus and a minus to users, as the people who were complaining about the low quality of video on NBCOlympics.com, seemed to be mainly those using the adaptive video stream. These users would have likely complained had the video quality stayed high, but stopped to buffer. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Perhaps, the best solution would be to give users the option of what they prefer, high video rate or no stopping to buffer.
    However, adaptive video stream is available with Flash Player 10, but it’s still in beta now. Then again, so is Silverlight 2, which I found quite surprising that a high traffic website like NBCOlympics.com would use beta software. This could prove problematic, as there’s been all sorts of issues with upgrading from beta versions for both Silverlight and Flash Player. Which is why it’s generally recommended that a full uninstall of the beta(s) is done before moving to the RTM version. It’s expected that developers can handle any troubleshooting issues with using beta versions of Flash and Silverlight players, but the average user should not have to deal with this. Hopefully, the upgrade from Silverlight 2 Beta 2 to Silverlight 2.0 will be a smooth one, or it could sour new users to the technology.

  17. Scott Barnes says:

    Matthew,
    I don’t mind the inline editing (you’ve swayed my opinion on this as I can see your points), my secondary point/ comprimise would be was to maybe shift it to below the comment (so it remains in context but less aggressive?)
    Also, less berating on what is considered a quality comment vs not, as in the end, it’s judge & jurior hour. As in the end, this could discourage folks to respond (just an opinion).
    That aside,
    However, adaptive video stream is available with Flash Player 10, but it’s still in beta now. Then again, so is Silverlight 2, which I found quite surprising that a high traffic website like NBCOlympics.com would use beta software. This could prove problematic, as there’s been all sorts of issues with upgrading from beta versions for both Silverlight and Flash Player. Which is why it’s generally recommended that a full uninstall of the beta(s) is done before moving to the RTM version. It’s expected that developers can handle any troubleshooting issues with using beta versions of Flash and Silverlight players, but the average user should not have to deal with this. Hopefully, the upgrade from Silverlight 2 Beta 2 to Silverlight 2.0 will be a smooth one, or it could sour new users to the technology.
    We’ve anticipated the upgrade phase beyond the Olympics an is something we’ve kept in our future plans. There is a number of paths we’ve tested to ensure that the transition from beta to release will kept minimal in terms of impact.
    Folks can GoLive today with Silverlight Beta 2, provided they register with us (EULA). The reason for this is so that we can keep track of what folks have built with the beta iteration and we can help them manage the next transition phase for when we ship the Silverlight 2 release.
    HTH.

    Scott Barnes
    Rich Platforms Product Manager
    Microsoft.

  18. Wow, ” the Goebbels of Adobe.” What an amazing slur. I’m almost positive I’ve seen JD burning books and calling for the gassing of Silverlight developers. Get a grip.
    In the best light the slur looks like an attempt to poison the well, but I’d be willing to bet we’re actually looking at some black propaganda.
    poisoning the well:
    http://bit.ly/4oE4oU
    black propaganda:
    http://bit.ly/4k7y8n

  19. Aaron says:

    Sorry, reality check: You work for Adobe right? How can we expect your evaluation to be perfectly objective? And why on earth was this linked to from LiveSide.net? (http://www.liveside.net/main/archive/2008/08/23/wave-3-urls-start-resolving-services-betas-coming-soon.aspx)
    Seems like liveside should have linked to a more neutral source (even one with shared opinions).
    No offense intended. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but still no one could deny that there is a potential conflict of interest here.
    [jd sez: Of course, each speaker may have a pre-existing orientation, self-interest, agenda. My employment is clearly defined. Take the observations and questions only for what they’re worth, neither believing nor discounting unduly.]