NEW YORK – NBC's Olympics coverage online has evolved over the years. In the beginning, NBC was worried about interfering with broadcast coverage — its own and those of others. Broadcast rights are sold by territory so Europeans aren't supposed to have access to NBC's video. Tools for restricting content by territory have improved, while NBC got new owners — Comcast Corp. Now, NBC sees the Internet as complementary to its television broadcasts.
Here's a look at the evolution of Olympics video online:
— 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.
Video wasn't really video at all. Rather, NBCOlympics.com showcased a series of still images grabbed from NBC's video feeds. The exception was an experiment in which NBC piped delayed video of selected events down controlled cables to about 100,000 homes.
— 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
There was still no video of competition, live or delayed. The online video ban included highlight clips and interviews with athletes in Olympic venues. Local newscasts archived online had to be trimmed. The restrictions applied worldwide, though the International Olympic Committee allowed a Swiss rights holder, Television Suisse Romande, to stream live video to a closed network of high-speed DSL subscribers in three cities. Up to 2,000 subscribers could watch simultaneously.
— 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
While Europeans began showing live online footage, NBC offered only delayed video. And it was limited to those who had Visa cards (though no money was charged). At NBCOlympics.com, real-time coverage of events didn't involve video, but scores, stats and written play-by-play descriptions updated every 30 seconds or so. Brief video highlights were available on cellphones through an AT&T premium service.
— 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
NBC made live video available online for the first time, but it was limited to one hockey game. Delayed video was offered for top finishers and all U.S. participants in most events, with highlights for team sports such as hockey. No Visa authentication was needed. Cellphone video was expanded to other carriers.
— 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
NBC showed most events live online, but held back on popular sports — track and field, gymnastics and swimming — until after the events were shown on television. Users needed a subscription with a cable or satellite TV partner; Cablevision was the main holdout. The feeds were broadcast quality, though some didn't have on-air commentary. Text commentary appeared for a handful of events from partners such as Tennis.com.
— 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
In a case of going two steps forward, one step back, NBC limited live video to curling and ice hockey. Real-time coverage of other events was free of video. With luge, for instance, standings were updated after every run. Times and speeds of the competitors flashed in real time as they hit various interval points and the finish. For figure skating, past Olympians Peter Carruthers and Kristi Yamaguchi offered real-time text commentary.
— 2012 Summer Games in London.
NBC offers live video of every competition and medal ceremony, not just on its website but through apps for Apple and Android phones and tablet computers. For gymnastics and track and field, multiple streams are available to focus on specific events within the venues. In 2008, multiple streams for those sports had been available on a delayed basis only. NBC, however, didn't show the opening ceremonies live, though it relented and streamed the closing ceremonies online.
— 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
As with the London Olympics, NBC is offering every event live on its website and apps. Replays are limited, as is rewinding and pausing. In addition to the full events, NBC is giving online coverage more of a broadcast feel with a hosted channel called "Gold Zone." Starting Saturday, it will take viewers to the best of what's going on during the day. NBC still won't show the opening ceremonies online. It hasn't announced plans yet for the closing ceremonies.