Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thumbs up for NBCs coverage of the Tour de France

I've watched the Tour de France for years on television, but earlier this year, I cut the cord -- gave up my cable TV subscription -- and started streaming my video entertainment online. Since I could no longer get live television coverage, I paid NBC $29 for ala carte access to their 21 day online coverage of The Tour.

The bottom line -- I loved it. Let me list some of the things I liked.

In past years, I had to get up around 5 AM to watch coverage. NBC streamed The Tour live, but they buffered it online, so, if I got up late, I could still watch from the start. As soon as a stage finished, they archived it, so I could watch it later in the day if I was unable to watch live.

Since the real time video coverage was buffered, I could pause, fast forward, etc. My favorite feature here was a single click button to back up 15 seconds. Want to replay the last minute? Four quick clicks do the trick.

Since NBC charged for access, they kept the advertising reasonable. There were some banner ads, but no traditional 30 or 60 second video spots like on television. In full-screen mode, there were no banner ads at all.

There were three viewing modes -- full screen and two windowed modes, expand and reveal.

Here we see the full screen mode, with only narrow logo across the top:

This is the expand windowed mode with banner ads at the top of the screen:

The reveal windowed mode adds extra information like running commentary and links to highlight videos:

The windowed modes had ads, but they did not really bother me. The greater distraction in a windowed mode is the temptation to click away and read your email or do some other work. While I did my share of that, full screen is the mode for sitting back and passively watching.

You could also switch to the NBC Web site to track live race progress and get information on the riders, teams, and standings as well as see interviews, video, news, photos and dynamic stage maps like the one shown here:

Dynamic information on the progress of the race also popped up from time to time, as shown below. The popup in this example conveys a lot of information -- there are 30.9 kilometers remaining in this stage and the race leader, in the yellow jersey, is 8 minutes and 21 seconds behind the leaders, who are shown. There is a pursuit group 53 seconds behind the leading group, and last year's winner, Cadel Evans, is 10 minutes 3 seconds behind the leaders. (Click the image to enlarge it).

These popups were not distracting, and, in fact, I would have liked to be able to display them on demand. (That would probably not be possible since they can only be computed when the riders pass fixed observation points on the road).

The race is over now, but an archive of 261 videos remains on the NBC Web site -- full stage replays, highlights of stages, pre and post stage analysis, interviews of riders, etc.

This video material, along with the other archived extras, is a treasure trove of material for sports historians, journalists, fans and re-mixers. I hope NBC leaves it there forever, but, when I asked them what they planned to do with the material, I got no answer.

I will finish where I started -- this was terrific coverage of a live sporting event -- a win for cord cutters.

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