Tuning In to Microsoft Silverlight for Olympic Gold

Microsoft becomes the online channel of choice for Olympic coverage. The company could have made Silverlight Windows-specific, but it didn't.

Maybe it's just me, but when I read that Bill Gates had inked an exclusive deal with NBC to deliver live and on-demand Olympics coverage on MSN with its Silverlight, cross-browser, cross-platform video plug-in, I saw a new world of online video opening up.

In the past, online video has gotten a great deal of interest, but it's never been really big business. Oh, people love their YouTube videos, many sites use Adobe Flash to add, well, flash, to their sites; some people legally download online video via iTunes for Apple TV and iPods, and far more skirt the law and company policies with illegal video downloads via various BitTorrent sites. Now, for the first time to my knowledge, a major "television" event is being made available over the Internet… if you use Microsoft Silverlight.

Now, I will give Microsoft credit. They could have made Silverlight Windows-specific, but they didn't. Microsoft and Novell are working together to bring Silverlight to Linux Web browsers with Moonlight. Microsoft is already supporting Silverlight on Mac OS X.

So, for once, Microsoft isn't using a technology to try to clobber its operating system competitors. Instead, it's upped the ante in the fast-growing world of Internet video. By making an exclusive deal with NBC, Microsoft isn't just trying to give Silverlight a much-needed boost in popularity, it's also serving notice that Microsoft wants to be one of the major "channels" for Internet television.

On the Internet, though, instead of frequencies demarking different channels, it's going to be delivery technologies. For example, I'm quite certain that NBC wanted this deal just as much as Microsoft did so that it could further distance itself from its old friend/new enemy, Apple, and its video services.

I think what Microsoft and NBC have done is only the start of a new focus of software companies and content providers on the Internet. The National Writers Union, after all, is striking because they've seen the future and in it Internet mass media is where the money is.

Looking ahead, I can see Apple making more deals with movie studios and television networks. We already know, for all intents and purposes, that Fox will be renting movies through iTunes in a few weeks. At the same time, Adobe, which with Flash has pretty much owned the Internet on-demand video market, will need to make its own deals.

The result? I can see say CBS/Flash or ABC/iTunes in our future. It won't just be the traditional broadcast players turning Internet video into a truly big business. The NFL has already served notice to the broadcasters and cable companies with its NFL Network that it wants its own share of the TV market. I'm sure they'll be doing the same with the Internet.

For businesses, this means network traffic management is going to become more important than ever. Streaming music and peer-to-peer downloading has already been trouble enough. Can you imagine what will happen to your intranet when your net connection gets over-run with the HD-Flash Super Bowl broadcast of 2009? Yow!

We've both enjoyed, and had to deal with the traffic problems, of multimedia for years. If I'm right, we're about to see both our choices, and our troubles, rise to new levels.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, editor-at-large for Ziff Davis Enterprise, can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com.