Wednesday, August 10, 2016

NBC streaming the Olympics on the Internet -- quantity, not quality

NBC Sports is allowing many (not all) cable TV subscribers to stream Olympic Games events live and to watch archived copies after they finish. There are several ways to watch the streams -- in a Windows 10 app, on a TV set using the Roku app and on the Web. I checked them out and was generally disappointed.

With the Roku app, watching a live event is like watching a broadcast TV program -- you sit back and watch, but have no control. When you are watching the archived recording of a completed event, you can pause and fast forward/reverse, but that is all.

The event navigation interface is also lame. There are five linear menus: Features, Live and upcoming, Highlights, Full event replay and Sports. You scroll through a list of thumbnail images to find the one you want to watch. That is fine for the 13 features and 34 sports, but not so handy for the 300 Highlights, 771 Live and upcoming or 538 Full event replays. (These numbers will vary of course). Search is sorely missing.

There are also frequent delays for updating content and, if you try to watch a live event, you are often informed that it has concluded or will begin shortly -- they do not update menus at the time an event starts or ends.

The Windows 10 live-event user interface is a little better, but nothing to write home about. As you see below, there is a volume control and buttons to pause/resume, go full screen and to turn on/off closed captions.

NBC Sports app user interface

The navigation interface, shown below, is similar to that of the Roku. There are five linear menus: Features, Live and upcoming, Replay, Highlights and Sports. There are no scroll bars, so you use the cursor control keys to move through the selections.

Windows 10 app navigation interface

As with the Roku, the "live" events are frequently either completed or not yet begun.

The Web user interface is a bit better. As you see below, it includes the handy "15-second rewind" button and rewind and fast-forward buttons.

Web user interface

The Web navigation is also more flexible and complete than with the Roku or Windows 10 app. The bad news is that there are ads and you cannot go full screen. (The others also have interspersed ads).

There is also an Android app, but I am not going to bother installing it -- I prefer watching sports on a TV set and it will doubtless have some of the limitations discussed above.

As I said at the start, I am generally disappointed with NBC's streaming coverage. Part of that is because my expectations were raised by NBC's excellent coverage of the Tour de France. The mobile and desktop user interfaces were clean and powerful and they presented real time data during the race and inciteful analysis after each stage was completed. The business model was also different. You pay for Tour de France access, but do not have to watch ads (which are often followed by a screen saying the event you want to watch has already concluded).

I realize that the Olympics are a tougher event to cover -- many venues and many elimination levels -- but I hope that by 2020, the NBC Olympic team will sit down with the Tour de France team and re-design their coverage. I hope they also offer an ad-free option.

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