Let the Games Begin! (But Let's Watch Them on PCs)

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The two hallmarks of the 2008 Olympics are that all TV broadcasts will be in high definition and that all events will be streamed live to our computers.

 

The 2008 Summer Olympic Games begin in Beijing today, and the event marks several technology milestones, not the least of which is that it will be the largest television event in the history of the medium.

 

For the next 17 days, NBC Universal will provide around-the-clock high-definition TV coverage through its affiliates and cable networks. Of interest to technophiles, it also will be streaming thousands of hours of live broadband coverage over the Internet to computer users in the United States using Microsoft's new Silverlight technology. (Adobe has contracted with CCTV.com for Olympics Web coverage of the Games for distribution in China using Flash technology).

 

NBC has revamped its 75,000 square foot International Broadcast Center to be completely high definition, and it has built a state-of-the-art Web transmission and production infrastructure for NBCOlympics.com. The company is switching from its workhorse Sony HDCAM tape to Sony XDCAM HD optical disc for electronic newsgathering and acquisition. NBC is offering a free download-and-play service that will allow people to watch the Olympics at home, at work, or, in some cases, on the go through certain mobile phones. Once you pick the events you want to watch, they will automatically download to Windows Media Center as they become available.

 

According to the New York Times, "NBC thinks that a lot of viewing may well be done in the workplace."

 

This could be of interest to network administrators at companies with limited bandwidth, who may wish to set guidelines about viewing the Olympics on company equipment. Instead of sending a few emails to their friends promising to get together after work to watch highlights of the games, it's a certainty that once employees realize they can watch the Olympics live on their computers at work, they will be trying to steam live video from the events directly to their desktops.

 

NBCOlympics.com will be providing approximately 2,200 hours of live streaming broadband coverage of Olympic competition that will allow users to choose from among 20 streams of video covering some 25 events. It also will offer another 3,000 hours of on-demand video, including highlights and encores. The benefit of watching the Olympics on your computer versus the TV is that you get to watch whatever event you choose rather than what the network decides is of greatest appeal. Users can see up to four screens of live feeds at once or have a picture-in-picture feed on their computers.

 

Users of mobile devices can sign up for text updates and event alerts and download schedules, results, articles, and photos. T-Mobile, for instance, offers users a special icon for downloading mobile content to their BlackBerries from the NBC Olympics Mobile Web site. Mobile device users also can text "OLYMPICS" to 51515. Subscribers to AT&T, however, will have the real deal: "a TV channel on their cell phone."

 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has launched a special YouTube channel (not available in the U.S.) exclusively in 77 countries and territories where NBC or others don't have broadcast rights. Also, a service sponsored by computer-maker Lenovo Group Ltd. and Internet company TV Tonic allows users to download full-length videos of events overnight and watch them on a laptop later.

 

Olympics 2008 will be the first Games that truly celebrate social media. Several advertisers have come up with ingenious branding efforts using social networking Web sites or blogs. The Coca-Cola Co. is inviting users to design new Coke bottles. They can build their own bottle artwork galleries, display their creations within the Coke gallery, or post them on their personal Web pages. Visit Design the World a Coke to try your hand at bettering the classic Coke bottle.

 

Millions of Olympics fans across 100 countries already have tried the McDonald's alternative-reality game, The Lost Ring, that challenges players to solve Olympics-related mysteries.

 

Lenovo has created blogs for some 100 Olympics athletes. The selected athletes, however, will post a "Lenovo 2008 Olympics Blogger" badge on their sites showcased, but not hosted, on the Lenovo Web site. Numerous other companies are engaging in social media branding experiments. Panasonic is sponsoring a photo contest; Samsung Electronics offers a photo and video torch-relay contest; FAW-Volkswagen Automobile Co. devised a Honk for China contest based on participation from people as the Olympic torch passes through their towns. Others include PepsiCo, Nike, and many more.

 

IBM, the company that since the 1960 winter games at Squaw Valley provided computers and technology for the games, this year is handling only the security surveillance solution in Beijing. IBM ended a 40-year partnership with the IOC after the Sydney, Australia, games due to differences over marketing. IBM wanted exclusive marketing rights on Olympics.com while the IOC wanted to be able to offer a consortium of companies the right to display their brands on the Olympics Internet site.

 

The role IBM is playing at the games this year, nevertheless, is important. The threat of terrorism lingers over the games like the smog hangs over Beijing. Already, religious separatists are believed to be behind the killing of 15 Chinese police in a remote village last week, and reports are that plans have been found indicating some have been plotting to disrupt the games.

 

The response that the Chinese have made to longstanding security threats is nothing short of massive. Since 2001, when Beijing was awarded the Games, China has spent an estimated $6.5 billion on security just in the Beijing area. Most of the money is for an extensive video monitoring system that is planned to stay in place after the games. It's the most comprehensive and sophisticated surveillance system ever developed. While analysts suspect it likely will be used to spy on dissidents after the Olympics are over, the technology brings a whole new meaning to the term "IT security."

 

Using IBM technology, the Chinese will be using a sophisticated computer system to scan video images of city streets, looking for anything or anyone that hints of making trouble--or terrorizing people. Called Smart Surveillance Solution, or S3, the system uses analytic tools to index digital video recordings. It issues alerts when certain parameters are breached and can be used to alert security guards if someone enters a secure area or a vehicle leaves a parking zone. The same system is also being tested in lower Manhattan and integrated into Chicago's existing surveillance infrastructure for emergency response.

 

Conceived in 2006, the surveillance system started as a research project in IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center. The company's service group has been diligent in trying to move it into a profitable line of business, and it has gained traction with retail and banking customers, including Italy's UniCredit bank. It can use both analog and digital cameras, making it possible to integrate into existing infrastructures that IBM supports with cameras, sensors, servers, networking technologies, software, services, and analytics. The system is designed to reduce costs and improve operations as well as improve security and safety.

 

With the world's marketplace becoming global, the Olympics are proving to be an ever-growing showcase for a number of products and ideas. NBC is expanding its audience measurement techniques beyond just the Nielsen TV ratings and now plans to measure viewers on computer too with a "total audience measurement index," or TAMI.

 

The Olympics today and probably forevermore has become more than a platform to display a few clever ads touting consumer products. It is now a venue to present today's state-of-the art technology, a symbol of a nation's accomplishments in achieving modernization.

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