Michael Phelps is not the only one breaking records and winning gold at the Olympics in Beijing.
If Microsoft’s Silverlight continues to have the success it has had in streaming video coverage of the Olympic Games around the world, it could mean gold for Microsoft as the software giant continues its competition with Adobe and that company’s ubiquitous Flash technology.
Adobe claims that up to 75 percent or more of the video on the Internet uses Flash. The company also claims a huge number of Flash downloads a day. In a recent interview with eWEEK, Adrian Ludwig, group manager of product marketing in the Adobe Platform and Developer Business Unit, said Adobe sees 10 million downloads of Flash each day. However, with the Olympics and the deal Microsoft has with NBC to stream the coverage, Microsoft officials said Silverlight has been downloaded up to 8 million times a day over the last several days.
“You have to look at things like the development perspective and what this all means for developers, and how this changes the game,” said Brian Goldfarb, group product manager of Microsoft’s Developer Division. “We’ve provided competition in a market that desperately needed competition.”
Goldfarb also noted, “from a Silverlight perspective, this is an amazing opportunity to demonstrate what’s possible with the technology. This puts a stake in the ground and [is] saying we’re here. This may be the single biggest online event and Microsoft is empowering it.”
And the 2008 Olympic Games are smashing old online records set for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. In the first four days of events, NBCOlympics.com surpassed the totals for the entire Athens Games in page views, video streams and unique users.
NBC Olympic Coverage Shines as Silverlight Proving Ground
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Here are the stats through first four days of the Beijing games compared with entire Athens games. There were 13.5 million video streams for the Beijing games, versus 2.2 million for the entire Athens games-a difference of 514 percent. Through the first four days there were 16.9 million unique users for the Beijing games, versus 11.1 million for the entire Athens games. And regarding page views, there were 291.1 million for Beijing versus 229.9 million for the entire Athens games.
NBC and Microsoft are enabling viewers to watch more than 3,500 hours of Olympics coverage, with nearly 3,000 hours of live coverage being made available, Microsoft officials said.
Moreover, Goldfarb said, on Aug. 11, for instance, 250TB of data was delivered via Silverlight.
“When you think about the size and scope of all this it’s kind of mind-boggling,” he said.
Some have mentioned that Microsoft’s Silverlight strategy could conjure up vestiges of past antitrust issues. To this Goldfarb simply said, “The key thing here is this is the first time people have had competition.” Indeed, Ludwig noted that Flash’s penetration may be as high as 98 percent of all PCs. Goldfarb presents Silverlight as an opportunity for developers and designers.
Goldfarb also noted that developers can use Microsoft’s free Visual Studio Express tools to create Silverlight applications. “And it’s not just for .NET developers,” Goldfarb said, noting that Microsoft is working with Novell to deliver a Linux version of Silverlight known as Moonlight.
Online Viewers Respond
Meanwhile, the Silverlight Olympics experience is helping to create new communities online.
“We get a phenomenal amount of feedback from users,” Goldfarb said. Microsoft and NBC set up a feedback alias that receives about two e-mails per minute, he said. And in terms of feedback, Goldfarb said he has seen “pockets of communities” crop up from people who typically do not have access to coverage of sports like the equestrian events, fencing and air rifle, thanking NBC for providing the coverage online.
One equestrian fan, Suzanne Garofalo, wrote: “Thank you so much for the awesomely complete coverage you are providing on all of the Equestrian activities at the 2008 Olympic Games. We horse people are fanatics just like many other sports followers and have felt a little left out in years past but we understand that most Americans don’t care about Equestrian and that air time is precious and that it doesn’t make good business sense to spend much air time on a mostly unknown or little understood sport.”
Another online viewer, Tom Pennello, wrote: “The live and recorded video streams are excellent. I’ve been able to catch bike races I couldn’t catch live (because I was out cycling myself!) I wasn’t near a TV for the opening ceremonies-but never mind! Your recording was there waiting for me.”
And I have to say I’m a user of the online capability presented by NBC and Microsoft. I tend to like boxing and soccer-two sports that haven’t had a ton of network coverage in prime time, but I’ve been able to watch online.
But mostly, like nearly everyone else in my hometown of Baltimore, I’m digging the NBC Olympics site so I can watch video of homeboy Michael Phelps! That’s right. Homeboys make some noise! Michael Phelps swam out of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club for years.
So did fellow U.S. Olympian Katie Hoff, who so far has won a silver and a bronze medal in this year’s Olympics. Phelps has broken the record for an Olympic athlete, making him the most decorated Olympian ever with 11 gold medals so far. Some have even taken to calling him the greatest ever. Well, he at least has to break Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals at one Olympics before that. It’s likely he will, but greatest ever is still too strong for me.
Moreover, Carmelo Anthony, who grew up playing basketball in the hard courts of the city, is representing Baltimore on the U.S. men’s basketball team. I missed the game against China the other day, but caught it online via Silverlight. That game has been hailed as the most watched basketball game in history, largely because there are so many Chinese viewers and Chinese hero Yao Ming and company were taking on superstars from the NBA. But I believe it also was partly because the online capability enabled even more folks to watch.
So what happens to Silverlight after the Olympics? Well, unless there is some major failure in the following days of the games, the technology will have definitely placed that solid “stake in the ground” that Goldfarb talked about. It will gain momentum. But it will have a tough time unseating Flash. Antitrust issues? I don’t believe so. I don’t know and I don’t really care. All I know is it works and I get to see things I’d typically miss.