Behind NBC's Olympics Website

Eric Schmidt, one of the developers on NBCOlympics.com, the official Olympics Web site for the USA, just dropped by Fast Company’s offices in New York City for a chat. We used to work together at Microsoft. I turned on my cell phone and videoed Schmidt and we talked about the site and he gave me lots of insights. Yesterday in the afternoon the site was seeing 4,000 new video plays started every second. They are still counting up all the views from yesterday, but it looks like somewhere around seven million unique visitors hit the site yesterday alone. In just a few days they’ve uploaded around 200 hours of video and are expecting to have more than 2,000 hours on the site. Four years ago there was just a few dozen hours of video up on the site. Thousands of machines are needed to encode and serve the video and the site. Interesting conversation, hope you enjoy a little look behind one of the people who worked behind the scenes for months on this site.

Comments

  1. He just casually dropped by without an invitation – on the spur of the moment to talk and you had no choice but to use a cell phone???????

    Thankfully, their Olympics preparation is not that impulsive ;-)

  2. He just casually dropped by without an invitation – on the spur of the moment to talk and you had no choice but to use a cell phone???????

    Thankfully, their Olympics preparation is not that impulsive ;-)

  3. Interesting. Whatever they’re doing, it certainly cannot handle the load, and they’ve gone back to 90′s style video to handle it, where you get sound only, and a slideshow, when it’s under any sort of load.

    I thought that people had realized by now that they’re far better off just allowing us to wait out the buffering time rather than giving us crappy presentation, but I guess not.

  4. Interesting. Whatever they’re doing, it certainly cannot handle the load, and they’ve gone back to 90′s style video to handle it, where you get sound only, and a slideshow, when it’s under any sort of load.

    I thought that people had realized by now that they’re far better off just allowing us to wait out the buffering time rather than giving us crappy presentation, but I guess not.

  5. Are they broadcasting the olympics using a cell phone camera as well? And is there a Sergey Brin coding for NBC too?

  6. Are they broadcasting the olympics using a cell phone camera as well? And is there a Sergey Brin coding for NBC too?

  7. @PR “He just casually dropped by without an invitation – on the spur of the moment to talk and you had no choice but to use a cell phone???????”

    Read: Fastcompany.tv couldn’t afford to send the cameraman to NY with Scoble.

  8. @PR “He just casually dropped by without an invitation – on the spur of the moment to talk and you had no choice but to use a cell phone???????”

    Read: Fastcompany.tv couldn’t afford to send the cameraman to NY with Scoble.

  9. Other than the crappy arrangement NBC has to provide data (both TV and web) well after the results have been broadcast world wide, I thing the SL video is excellent. Watching the basketball highlights and games (obviously post processed) is a gas. not to mention the mens 4×100..The quality I’m seeing is fantastic.

  10. Other than the crappy arrangement NBC has to provide data (both TV and web) well after the results have been broadcast world wide, I thing the SL video is excellent. Watching the basketball highlights and games (obviously post processed) is a gas. not to mention the mens 4×100..The quality I’m seeing is fantastic.

  11. SonOfPR: Rocky was with me in the room and we had our HD cameras there too, but we wouldn’t be able to get the videos up for a couple of weeks, which just wouldn’t be interesting for this interview. Also, by making it live we could get people’s questions answered in live time via Twitter and FriendFeed (and via my cell phone, which shows me comments from people live as they are submitted). This worked pretty well in cell phone version.

  12. SonOfPR: Rocky was with me in the room and we had our HD cameras there too, but we wouldn’t be able to get the videos up for a couple of weeks, which just wouldn’t be interesting for this interview. Also, by making it live we could get people’s questions answered in live time via Twitter and FriendFeed (and via my cell phone, which shows me comments from people live as they are submitted). This worked pretty well in cell phone version.

  13. I tried watching the Olympics report on NBC (as have been told they’re great) but I need a US address which was annoying!

  14. I tried watching the Olympics report on NBC (as have been told they’re great) but I need a US address which was annoying!

  15. Ever since they stole FM from Major Armstrong, NBC has been the US Sony — more and more private standards, reaching for money through monopoly. Remember, they’re the one that didn’t pick Betacams. They’re the ones who kept their MSNBC videos behind a private garden wall for years. They’re the ones who started the boycott of iTunes. They wanted, apparently, that they imitate the brilliant pricing structure of the Zune stores. And they were willing to sell other non-DRM’ed files at a low price just to try to put a dent in iTunes. How’s that been working?

  16. Ever since they stole FM from Major Armstrong, NBC has been the US Sony — more and more private standards, reaching for money through monopoly. Remember, they’re the one that didn’t pick Betacams. They’re the ones who kept their MSNBC videos behind a private garden wall for years. They’re the ones who started the boycott of iTunes. They wanted, apparently, that they imitate the brilliant pricing structure of the Zune stores. And they were willing to sell other non-DRM’ed files at a low price just to try to put a dent in iTunes. How’s that been working?

  17. once again microsoft (thru its relationship with nbc) uses its virtual monopoly to punish those who don’t succumb to using their operating system. SL is only available for Windows and Intel Macs.

  18. once again microsoft (thru its relationship with nbc) uses its virtual monopoly to punish those who don’t succumb to using their operating system. SL is only available for Windows and Intel Macs.

  19. When I try to watch anything on the nbcolympics site, all I get is a screen telling me their video is only compatible with windows and mac. It’s a pretty screen, but not very impressive considering there’s nothing about delivering A/V over the web that should be dependent upon the underlying operating system.

  20. When I try to watch anything on the nbcolympics site, all I get is a screen telling me their video is only compatible with windows and mac. It’s a pretty screen, but not very impressive considering there’s nothing about delivering A/V over the web that should be dependent upon the underlying operating system.

  21. I was using Facebook to get my Olympic updates, but unfortunately my account has been disabled for similar reasons to yours except that I was not using Plaxo. I was using contacts to help me port video, questions, and audio to students in South Africa as part of an upcoming trip in late 2009 or early 2010. I have Plaxo and LinkedIn and I now realize that even if I get my appeal in my favor that I will use that account mainly for straight communications. I feel like their actions are extremely heavy handed and vague because no one knows what the limits for getting new friends is and they are not trying to tell anyone either. I don’t want to fight with them but I really want to use Facebook as a teaching tool and the Olympics were a great start. I appealed on Monday and I have written Facebook twice with no response. What can I do? I have unfortunately tied too much to one provider and as a researcher who did his doctorate on Edutainment & Convergence I made a mistake in a walled-garden that I now need. I remember your story approximately a year ago and I talked about it on my blog. I am not a spammer just a person trying to network. I never sold a product or service and I just feel like there has to be a better way. BTW, does disabled mean that I am terminated because my definition may differ from theirs. Is this like being suspended?

  22. I was using Facebook to get my Olympic updates, but unfortunately my account has been disabled for similar reasons to yours except that I was not using Plaxo. I was using contacts to help me port video, questions, and audio to students in South Africa as part of an upcoming trip in late 2009 or early 2010. I have Plaxo and LinkedIn and I now realize that even if I get my appeal in my favor that I will use that account mainly for straight communications. I feel like their actions are extremely heavy handed and vague because no one knows what the limits for getting new friends is and they are not trying to tell anyone either. I don’t want to fight with them but I really want to use Facebook as a teaching tool and the Olympics were a great start. I appealed on Monday and I have written Facebook twice with no response. What can I do? I have unfortunately tied too much to one provider and as a researcher who did his doctorate on Edutainment & Convergence I made a mistake in a walled-garden that I now need. I remember your story approximately a year ago and I talked about it on my blog. I am not a spammer just a person trying to network. I never sold a product or service and I just feel like there has to be a better way. BTW, does disabled mean that I am terminated because my definition may differ from theirs. Is this like being suspended?

  23. wouldn’t be able to get the videos up for a couple of weeks

    Err, why? That makes no sense. Schedule? Why schedule it beyond the point it matters, it’s timely now. People are already bored of the Olympics, in another 2 weeks they won’t care an iota.

    Technical? Easy enough to quick and boring 320×240 encode down, not like you have to do many very many fancy edits, and if went Glidecam or 2 cam timecode sync (or clap multicam), wouldn’t have to do any. And with the Mac 8 cores, HD to Web, is an easier prospect. Even so, worst case scenario, pull an all nighter, if worth it for the ratings (which it won’t be, but the idea itself).

  24. Say what you will about the site, whether you have a US address, whether you dont like the layout, or are not a fan of Silverlight, the site performance is really impressive. As for Silverlight, the video quality is really good considering the numbers of unique hits. I have been watching the swimming and the badminton (who knew badminton could be exciting?) and really enjoying it. I did discover that Silverlight doesnt work with Firefox 3, but the site overall was worth the temporary iexplorer experience. Overall, well done, I’d say.

  25. wouldn’t be able to get the videos up for a couple of weeks

    Err, why? That makes no sense. Schedule? Why schedule it beyond the point it matters, it’s timely now. People are already bored of the Olympics, in another 2 weeks they won’t care an iota.

    Technical? Easy enough to quick and boring 320×240 encode down, not like you have to do many very many fancy edits, and if went Glidecam or 2 cam timecode sync (or clap multicam), wouldn’t have to do any. And with the Mac 8 cores, HD to Web, is an easier prospect. Even so, worst case scenario, pull an all nighter, if worth it for the ratings (which it won’t be, but the idea itself).

  26. Say what you will about the site, whether you have a US address, whether you dont like the layout, or are not a fan of Silverlight, the site performance is really impressive. As for Silverlight, the video quality is really good considering the numbers of unique hits. I have been watching the swimming and the badminton (who knew badminton could be exciting?) and really enjoying it. I did discover that Silverlight doesnt work with Firefox 3, but the site overall was worth the temporary iexplorer experience. Overall, well done, I’d say.

  27. Boy the trolls are out tonight!

    I think the site is great, but I do have one question: I though it was going to use SilverLight and XAML? It looks like they are still using Flash – what happened?

  28. Boy the trolls are out tonight!

    I think the site is great, but I do have one question: I though it was going to use SilverLight and XAML? It looks like they are still using Flash – what happened?

  29. When I first went into NBC Olympics it asked me to install SilverLight, so I’m guessing they are using it. Some friends on a Mac told me they had some issues launching the videos (don’t know if they figure out a way, though)

  30. When I first went into NBC Olympics it asked me to install SilverLight, so I’m guessing they are using it. Some friends on a Mac told me they had some issues launching the videos (don’t know if they figure out a way, though)

  31. [...] Blog Archive Behind NBC’s Olympics WebsiteFour years ago there was just a few dozen hours of video up on the site. Thousands of machines are needed to encode and serve the video and the site. Interesting conversation, hope you enjoy a little look behind one of the people who worked behind the scenes for months on this site. [...]

  32. And yet 92% of NBC’s audience watches on TV. So, despite all their hard work, and their decision to limit their web viewing audience to those only on an MS platform, TV is (and likely always will be) the preferred technology for consuming the Olympics.

  33. And yet 92% of NBC’s audience watches on TV. So, despite all their hard work, and their decision to limit their web viewing audience to those only on an MS platform, TV is (and likely always will be) the preferred technology for consuming the Olympics.

  34. Seems there are not many fans of a specific sport around here, or there would be a flood of complaints about nbc’s programming and scheduling of olympic’s broadcasts. There is no way to plan viewing a certain sport or even a specific race/match/contest, especially live. Even the events with broader interest are not live everwhere. A real fan watches what interests him at any time of the day, that is if he can find a reliable schedule published. Let’s tell the truth, the broadcasts are chaotic shows, and it doesn’t matter if the online videos are techynologically good if I can’t see what interests me, and when it happens.

  35. Seems there are not many fans of a specific sport around here, or there would be a flood of complaints about nbc’s programming and scheduling of olympic’s broadcasts. There is no way to plan viewing a certain sport or even a specific race/match/contest, especially live. Even the events with broader interest are not live everwhere. A real fan watches what interests him at any time of the day, that is if he can find a reliable schedule published. Let’s tell the truth, the broadcasts are chaotic shows, and it doesn’t matter if the online videos are techynologically good if I can’t see what interests me, and when it happens.

  36. @ Jerry. Given that the big time sports are put on TV while weight lifting, handball and other ugly duckings are given to web video, it’s not surprising majority audience watch TV. Still a big boost to SilverLight nonetheless.

  37. @ Jerry. Given that the big time sports are put on TV while weight lifting, handball and other ugly duckings are given to web video, it’s not surprising majority audience watch TV. Still a big boost to SilverLight nonetheless.

  38. How often do you yourself do Weight training or do you just write about it?

    Can I ask though – how did you get this picked up and into google news?

    Very impressive that this blog is syndicated through Google and is it something that is just up to Google or you actively created?

    Obviously this is a popular blog with great data so well done on your seo success..

    Soccer greats you should write about next.

  39. How often do you yourself do Weight training or do you just write about it?

    Can I ask though – how did you get this picked up and into google news?

    Very impressive that this blog is syndicated through Google and is it something that is just up to Google or you actively created?

    Obviously this is a popular blog with great data so well done on your seo success..

    Soccer greats you should write about next.

  40. Could be much improved by connecting the screens, making them interactive with ability to see related content on a second screen devices such as digital remote control with screen, PC, laptop or your full screen phone. Should be coming soon if Intel and Yahoo do not get too hungup on crapping up the TV with widgets, videos etc.

  41. Could be much improved by connecting the screens, making them interactive with ability to see related content on a second screen devices such as digital remote control with screen, PC, laptop or your full screen phone. Should be coming soon if Intel and Yahoo do not get too hungup on crapping up the TV with widgets, videos etc.

  42. There was way too much coverage of team sports in prime time. Where was the exciting stuff for individual events, i.e. high jump, long jump, pole vault, shot put, javelin, discus and hammer throw. Where was the boxing, wresling, archery, etc. Far, far too much volleyball, basketball and water polo. Who wants to sit through an hour coverage of a boring marathon race when a few high lights says it all?

  43. There was way too much coverage of team sports in prime time. Where was the exciting stuff for individual events, i.e. high jump, long jump, pole vault, shot put, javelin, discus and hammer throw. Where was the boxing, wresling, archery, etc. Far, far too much volleyball, basketball and water polo. Who wants to sit through an hour coverage of a boring marathon race when a few high lights says it all?