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There has been much a news about the use of Flash for Sunday NFL games on the NBC web site.  Some have claimed that NBC “dumped” Silverlight.  Whatever.  Anyone who thinks only one person at a company the size of NBC makes the decision does not understand corporate America in large companies.  NBC is a giant company of companies, probably each operating in their own right and left hands never talking to right hands.  That’s not to diminish the work for the NFL site, just a reality of business.

What is ironic about this implementation is that it proves that no technology is immune to business deals.  What do I mean?  Well, when the NBCOlympics.com site was introduced there were some critics of the actual implementation (not the quality, but the features).  People were upset about no full-screen as well as the inability to see the content outside the US from the NBC site.

Enter NFL on NBC.  Think Flash is immune and could “solve” that?  Think again.  Like most implementations of web applications, the NFL site developed for the lowest common denominator to meet their customers.  First, they target a 1024 screen resolution.  Second, no full-screen capability.  Third, users outside the US cannot view the content.

It is the latter two that I mean with regard to no technology immunity.  Why no full-screen?  Um, you think the advertisers want their ad space to disappear?  I bet not.  I’m pretty sure Spring paid good money to be visible the entire time.  One may be quick to point out overlays and such.  Quite frankly, I agree.  I’m not sure why developers don’t offer up the ability to do overlays on the media much like the experience that we see on regular television.  My guess here is that existing ad platforms are serving up content and the paradigm hasn’t shifted to in-media insertion just yet.  I know that Silverlight Streaming services is experimenting with contextual media advertising and I’m sure others are.  Until then, you won’t be seeing many full-screen applications unless the advertisers are in that full-screen experience…get used to it until this changes.  I bet NFL would have loved to have a full-screen experience.

On to the second one, non-US viewers.  They’ll be greeted with this:

NFL non-US image

Ironically, when the Olympics came out I saw many more “Microsoft you suck” for this more than “NBC you suck.”  So where is the “Adobe you suck” comments?  Anywhoo…you can “blame” nobody but NBC.  Welcome to the world of digital rights.  The broadcast rights for the NFL are probably sold regionally and NBC owns the rights to the US (I’m sure there are other countries licensing the rights to NFL online as well).  So for this particular experience provided by NBC US, they are honoring that license.  “Blame” is such a strong word.  I’m sure NBC and their advertisers would love to have as many eyeballs on the site as possible…but they are honoring their legal agreements.

So it just goes to show that no technology is immune to decisions made by business and as well in the world of media, decisions around content licensing.  Maybe we’ll come to a world of “open source content” but it isn’t there yet and implementers of technology will have to abide by these guidelines.

So my thoughts about the player?  Well, my first introduction was a note on Twitter and I went to check it out.  I was immediately placed into a “virtual waiting room” (with no virtual free drinks or appetizers mind you) with a message that said something to the effect of ‘due to overwhelming demand…’ and stayed at that state for a bit.  I eventually was placed in, but found it strange that they wouldn’t plan for “overwhelming demand.”  I’ve come now to realize that is the default message…hmm, I might consider changing that.

Once I did get in the quality of the game I was watching wasn’t great at all.  This was echoed by some on the Internet as well.  I experienced a very pixelated view that was choppy/buffering.  I didn’t get a chance to tune in tonight (07 SEP) to see the game online, but will compare this week.  In contrast, the recent Amazon implementation is much better quality.  I think the critical difference here is live versus pre-encoded where you have more time over the quality of the encode.  Some would say an outfit the size of NFL/NBC should have the highest quality hardware encoders available to them and that is no excuse, but I’m not privy to the equipment they are using.  For me, it wasn’t a great experience at all on the quality front.

Being that I have a soapbox on non-plugin-installed experiences, I checked that as well.  People give Silverlight a lot of crap for the default install badge that lazy developers don’t take the time to change (that’s right, I’m calling you out…fix your install experience).  I realize that Flash is pretty readily available on most machines, but I wanted to check the experience if I didn’t have Flash:

Nice.  Someone might want to take a look.  I assume the “Get Adobe Flash Player” is the default from some of the Flex tools.  For a site like NBC/NFL they should really put some design effort into this.  It tells me nothing about the content.  Say what you want about ubiquity, but it’s lazy.  And yes, if I see a production Microsoft site with the default “install Silverlight” badge, I’d call them out too – they’d be lazy as well.

I hope that over time, old media will meet new media and the online experience will continue to get better.  The Democratic National Convention proved that it is possible to deliver HD quality media live and scalable.  Here’s to hoping more online media gets that way.  I really liked last year watching next-day online episodes on ABC (it enabled me to keep in touch with LOST while traveling) in an HD-experience (that experience was powered by Move networks) and site like Hulu as well give us hope for increasingly better online media.  Now lets get those advertisers inline so we can get features we want as well without being imparied by old media rules/platforms.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution By license.

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How does 2000+ machines sound?  Transforming a Saturday Night Live recording area into a live commentator section full of workstations and bloggers?  Scoble had a chance to sit down with Eric Schmidt from Microsoft to talk about some of the behind-the-scenes information about the NBCOlympics.com Silverlight experience.  Despite the video quality not being great, the information is very good.  I recently saw a few other partners involved in the NBCOlympics.com project talk about things and kept feeling like they were really missing a great opportunity to talk about one of the key aspects in the implementation.  Eric covers the basics as well as that key aspect…it’s a good video.  Take the 35 minutes to watch it.

I’ve seen a lot of comments on the interwebs both positive and negative about the NBCOlympics.com experience and decisions to choose Silverlight.  I’d like to applaud the NBC team myself as I think this is no small feat regardless of whatever technology was to be decided.  Thousands of hours of live and on-demand Olympic coverage streamed live and encoded for later on-demand instantly, then pushed to the US across the Pacific…add to that all the normal television and data being sent as well.  It’s a technological feat that all partners involved were brave to try.  And for Olympic fans in the US, it’s paying off. 

Angry that it isn’t available in non-US areas?  Well, welcome to media licensing :-).  This isn’t Microsoft’s fault or NBC’s fault or anyone’s ‘fault’ really – it’s economics of business…whether you think it is right or wrong…that’s what it is.  Blackouts happen all the time in sports…all major sports do it.  I hate it too, but it is a reality.  The IOC basically sells the rights to broadcast the Olympics.  Several companies have purchased these rights…NBC was one of them who did it for the US.

Because of the time difference in Beijing, I’ve been able to see some of the amazing finishes some of the teams have been having in medal rounds, not having to worry about setting up TiVo or anything.  Great work to NBC and their partners.

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there is an important announcement from the silverlight streaming team.  looks like they are moving to some newer/better hardware infrastructure.  please see the full announcement.

here's the gist as well:

Tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 8th) we’ll move the Microsoft Silverlight Streaming by Windows Live service from its current hardware in Sandbox to a more permanent home on new hardware in the Production environment. Note that this doesn’t change anything to the fact that it is still provided as an Alpha version with no associated SLA.

At 9:00 pm PST the admin site front door (Silverlight.live.com) will be set to read-only. This means that your existing apps will still be able to function normally, whether hosted in SLS or hosted locally and fetching video content only from SLS. However you will not be able to provision new accounts and you will not be able to delete/change/upload content to the service, whether via the admin site or the API.

At 10:00 pm PST the DNS change will come into effect and all the traffic will be redirected to the new boxes in Production. There is a one-hour TTL on the old DNS so you may see some funkiness if you try to access some apps between 10:00 pm PST and 11:00 pm PST depending on what piece of the overall path (origin server, cached content in the CDN, etc.) to delivering your app and its content is still from the old config or already swapped to the new one.

At 11:00 pm PST everything should be back to normal. The old DNS will be inactive. The new hardware and new DNS will be the only one in operation in the Production environment. If you see any issues with your apps after that time, please report it to the dev forum on Silverlight.net or reply to this post.

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so while waiting for a replacement hard drive in my local office (i received an event log telling me "your hard disk driver has reported imminent failure...do not save anything more to this hard disk" -- yikes), i was working on some silverlight 1.1 cross-platforms stuff...i decided to fire up itunes to listen to some ambient tunage.  lo and behold two "shared libraries" popped up (i was on a public wifi connection).  sweet, i took a look and started lurking...mtabar had the broadest selection, from 2-pac, to my all time favorite band, black sabbath (the original, not the current).

i double-clicked and started streaming right away...nice.  nothing like a little 'war pigs' to get your day going.

thanks mtabar whomever you are that is likely somewhere in downtown phoenix using the same public wifi i am!