Monday, September 01, 2008

Tech, Money & Sports: The Online Olympics

It's been a few weeks since I posted on here, but considering that there's been so much happening in sports as of late, I figured I'd let the Olympics coverage (great job to all the Beijing contributors!) take centre stage.

But now, in the post-Olympics glow, there's been plenty of great stories to emerge out the Greatest Technical Olympics Ever (It was a well-run Games, probably the best run Summer Games ever, but the Best Olympics Ever goes to Sydney in 2000). Still, one major story that has to be covered, especially in lieu of the medium we work in, is the triumph of the Web as the medium of choice for Olympic watchers.

The 2008 Games will be marked as the Games the Web finally came of age in its utility as a full-powered, video-streaming, instant gratification source of information. To put all this in perspective, let's look at the Games' most trafficked sites outside of the Games' official site - Canada's own and

The CBC has dabbled in online video previously with high-quality streams of NHL broadcasts and its news service. Yet the Beijing Games were a step up for the CBC's web coverage in ways that were positively mind-blowing: over eight channels of live video feeds from the Chinese host broadcaster, minus sometimes-annoying voice-overs of hosts, plus the CBC-TV network feed. Never mind the overwhelming choices of blogs, feature pieces, video-on-demand, statistics and schedules and all the other goodies the CBC team delivered on. The CBC's online video streams were so good that the CBC's servers strained under the 300,000+ connections recorded at any given time.

Most importantly, especially in this age of individual customization online, all of this gave the web-savvy Olympics viewer a virtual all-you-can-eat, pick-and-choose format that raises the bar significantly for the CTVGlobemedia constortium in 2010 and 2012. While CTVGlobemedia already has a network of sites that delivers high-quality web video, there's no doubt that with increasing bandwidth and online video technology growing in quality every few months, there will be an even greater lust for online content by the Vancouver Winter Games in 18 months. was a enormous smash at this year's Games. Aside from NBC's financial windfall at this year's Games, the site generated more traffic by the end of the first week of the Beijing Games than the entire Athens Games. The final tally? netted nearly an astounding half a billion hits.

What does all this mean? Well, for one, it's proof that traditional broadcasters like CBC and NBC can pull off New Media if given the proper resources and time to do it. Further, there's also an argument to be made that as TV and the Web continue to slowly merge, there will be less and less need for scheduled programming blocks on the tube and more focus on directing impatient web users to a host broadcaster's site. Never mind the near-limitless number of illegal online feeds and YouTube hacks that allowed millions of people to watch the Games without the benefit of a TV.

The next step for online Olympics watching has to be mobile Web video. While nowhere near enough folks in Canada and the U.S. employ cellphones that use so-called Third Generation (3G) that allows high-quality video streams, that number is surely to grow. This raises another, potentially big problem, for the IOC down the road: the regional restriction of broadcast rights.

While anyone with a little tech savvy can easily bypass a broadcaster's geotargeting applications that prevent, say, a guy in Smith Falls, Ontario from watching NBC's online feed, it's becoming more and more anachronistic for the IOC to prevent international feeds from reaching different markets. The Olympics world, like music or movies, cannot be locked down in the Age of Digital. You either accept that people will find online sources with or without traditional broadcasters and cater to that need, or you will risk irrelevancy in the long-term.

Overall, this was a transformative Olympics for a lot of reasons. The Web, thankfully, is one of those Big Changes - a once-stats only resource that has become a newspaper, radio and television all in one.

Oh, and while this is off topic, Neate's favourite show, Friday Night Lights, is returning. Here's a picture of the show's three leading ladies from this month's GQ:

Why? Just because my friends - just because.

1 comment:

sager said...

Great stuff, Greg, as always ...

Mark Cuban wrote a blog post about this ... ESPN could get Olympic retransmission rights for 2016.