For this, the short version, I will list a few observations and conclude with some predictions for the future of live-event coverage on the Internet. First the observations, in no particular order.
- There were examples of three sources of revenue for live streaming of events: the BBC's coverage of the Olympics (free with a license fee), NBC's coverage of the Tour de France (pay per view) and NBC's Olympic coverage (advertising). My favorite was pay-per-view, but there is a lot of room for improving NBC's advertising presentation and many people would rather pay by watching ads.
- The BBC's Internet coverage was better than NBC's. It was more interactive, had better video quality and commentary and no advertsing. BBC also has a terrific sports blog. They win the gold medal because the viewers are their customers while NBC's customers are their advertisers. BBC "gets" the Internet.
- NBC could learn something about Web design from BBC. The BBC Web site was more interactive, giving the user control, while NBC's more closely followed a passive television model. They also need to clean up glitches like broken links.
- NBC's Olympic coverage needed better direction -- adding expert commentary to all the streams, better timing of commercials and intelligent camera selection.
- Sadly, NBC deleted the archives of the Tour de France soon after end of the race. I believe they have an information stewardship obligation and should maintain the archives of important events for analysis by journalists, scholars, fans, remixers, etc. The cost of doing so would be low.
- NBC's Olympic archive is still online, but they have not said for how long. Since it contains ads, they may leave it up. The BBC archive will remain online until January.
- NBC allowed viewers to watch two streams at once (one in a larger window), but then they had to watch two streams of ads.
- The quality of NBC's Web stream was very poor at first, virtually unwatchable. The video quality using their phone and tablet apps was much better. The video quality of NBC's earlier streaming of the Tour de France was nearly as good as that on television.
- NBC's Web video quality seemed to improve during the Olympic games. I did a subjective evaluation on day nine and, while it was far from perfect, it was in the same ballpark as BBC's streaming coverage. (Note that I watched the BBC coverage using a proxy server, which limited my download speed to about 2.3 Mbps while I was getting around 15 Mbps when accessing NBC).
- NBC's video seemed to improve even further by the end of The Games. Looking at various performance tests during the games, I tentatively concluded that the bottleneck was in the network, although there are too many variables to be sure.
- NBC made changes to their user interface during the Olympics. They were acting a bit like an agile Internet start-up -- release early, revise often -- tweaking the network to improve performance and revising the user interface.
- The Olympic Organizing Committee did its best to control leaks of Olympic material. For example, WiFi hotspots were not allowed in the stands and they did their best to stop social media leaks.
- NBC did a much better job on the Tour de France than the Olympics, but it was an easier event to cover, they had experience covering it in past years and they did not have to deal with the presentation of ads.
Now for a few fearless predictions.
NBC paid the International Olympic Committee $4.38 billion for the media rights to 2014 - 2020 Summer and Winter Olympics. We will see major changes in the coverage and the industry by 2020.
There will two separate markets. The first will be for producing content -- video, commentary, interactive features, Web design, and so forth. NBC was the content producer in this case. The second market will be for efficient networking to distribute that content. During these Olympics YouTube (Google) provided the networking expertise.
Both the content producers and the networkers will have learned a lot from past experience and will do a much better job than they did this year. We have even seen improvement during these Olympics. This is just the start of the IP TV era -- it is like the crystal set era in the early days of radio.
Given the expected improvement, the majority of people will be watching live events and other video on the Internet by 2020 -- we will have cut the cord and be watching over the top.
While there will be both network and content industries, the content industries will not have a lock on production. As the comedian Louis C. K. showed us, the production company will be dropped in some cases. Louis C. K. decided that he could do a better job of producing his comedy DVDs than Sony, and the Internatinal Olympic Committee might decide that it can do a better job than NBC or another production company.
It will be interesting to see what Google does in this area. If their fiber pilot study in Kansas City looks promising and replicable, they may become a networking powerhouse. At the same time, they are developing content and learning by working with folks like NBC. They may end up being able to offer the whole package.
Of course, there is a disclaimer to these predictions -- never underestimate the power of well-funded, entrenched lobbyists and huge corporate legal staffs. On the other hand, it is hard to find good buggy whips these days.