NEW YORK – NBC is significantly expanding its Olympics video offerings for the Internet and cell phones, a sure sign of its increased comfort with technologies that erect geographic boundaries online.
The network's official Olympics site, NBCOlympics.com, will show for free, on a delayed basis, the complete runs and routines for the top finishers and for all U.S. participants in almost every event, with highlights provided for team sports like hockey, said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.
During the 2004 Athens Summer Games, NBC showed only brief highlights. And although access will again be limited to Internet users in the United States, NBC won't be requiring a Visa credit card this time to verify eligibility.
"Today, we're confident that the technology does not require that level" of authentication, Zenkel said from Turin, Italy, where the Winter Games opened Friday and continue until Feb. 26.
The controls are required because the International Olympic Committee sells broadcast rights by territory, while Internet distribution is generally global.
General Electric Co.'s NBC paid $613 million for U.S. rights to the Winter Games.
NBC did offer some video highlights on cell phones in 2004, through the mMode information service sold through AT&T Wireless Inc., now part of Cingular Wireless LLC.
This time, highlights will be made available through the major U.S. carriers — about 1 million U.S. phone subscribers who pay for video service from Verizon Wireless's VCast or MobiTV Inc., which serves Cingular, Sprint and smaller U.S. carriers.
Zenkel said NBC also was making video available through Google Inc.'s video search site as well as through on-demand services that reach 24 million cable and satellite homes.
None of the video will be live; in most cases it won't be available online or on phones until the end of NBC's broadcast day, generally 11:30 p.m. ET.
By contrast, the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Web site is simulcasting five television feeds, though only to U.K. residents.
And with NBC planning more than 400 hours of coverage, or more than 24 hours a day, on its broadcast and cable outlets, Zenkel doubts the Internet will carry any original footage, beyond training ski runs that took place Thursday, before NBC started its broadcasts Friday.
Olympics video has been slowing making its way online.
In 2000, NBC piped delayed video down controlled fiber-optic cables to only 100,000 homes, while the rest were left with still images captured from television feeds.
Two years later, a Swiss broadcaster streamed video to up to 2,000 subscribers through a closed network of high-speed DSL subscribers in three cities.
More broadcasters were allowed to beam video to computers and mobile phones in 2004 as long as they could restrict access to their countries.
NBC required a credit card from Visa, an NBC advertiser, to check its billing address, though users weren't charged. European broadcasters largely required high-speed broadband connections, to keep foreigners from connecting via international phone calls.
Many of those same restrictions are in place this year, although Zenkel said the control technologies have improved and made credit card checks unnecessary.
Rather, NBC will rely on Akamai Technologies Inc. to perform several behind-the-scenes checks, including the user's numeric Internet address, which can generally pinpoint a specific city or even company network. Entriq Corp. will encrypt the video to prevent piracy.
NBC also is working with Intel Corp. to make high-resolution video available to owners of its Viiv entertainment PC platform. The system can accommodate up to 10,000 users at a time. Others get lower-quality video when they visit NBCOlympics.com.
The network, meanwhile, will offer 15-second previews through Google Video, with users directed to the NBC site for the complete feed. Bob Costas will host daily two-minute highlight packages for The Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN.com.
In both cases, Zenkel said, any segments containing competition footage will be restricted to U.S. users.