Silverlight Goes for the Gold in Beijing

Posted by at 11:32 pm on August 3, 2008

In just a few days, on 8/8/08 to be exact, athletes from around the world will be seeking the gold in Beijing and so will Microsoft.

Microsoft is hoping their partnership with NBC Universal to host the online video portal for the 2008 Beijing Olympics  will bring the gold home for their Silverlight platform.

Silverlight  is Microsoft’s answer to Adobe’s Flash  when it comes to online video and rich interactive applications for the Web.

The Silverlight browser plug-in is free of cost and available for the Mac for use with Safari and Firefox browsers and on Windows with the major browsers.

Bill Gates made the announcement of the partnership during his last CES keynote this past January in Las Vegas. Since then NBC has been using Silverlight to broadcast the Olympic trials.

The Features on MSN Will Deliver will have live and on-demand content that will be viewable via Silverlight during the games. 17 days of 34 sports, which results 2,200 hours of live event video coverage, with more than 20 simultaneous live video streams at peak times for the viewer to pick from. If you miss something or wanted to even know more, there will be more than 3,000 hours of on-demand video content including full-event replays, highlights, features, interviews and encore packages.

The enhanced playback mode will give users the choice of a high-quality full screen viewing experience. Microsoft claims Silverlight’s adaptive streaming technology will provide the best possible streaming experience for the viewer, regardless of network conditions, via sophisticated techniques that adjust the delivery bit rate on the fly.

There will be live video alerts so fans can stay connected to the events and teams they care most about. Silverlight’s overlays will enable fans to have access to a wealth of related content including results, statistics, comprehensive bios, rules and expert analysis from NBC’s Olympic digital media team in Beijing. Plus there will be social networking features that enable fans to share aspects of their Olympic experience with friends.

The Thrill of Victory or the Agony of Defeat

Testing a new platform at the Olympics carries significant risk for both NBC and Microsoft. While Siverlight has been used by Major League Baseball (MLB) Advanced Media for MLB.TV and MLB.TV Premium, the games are a much greater test for Microsoft. Please note MLB also uses Flash for video on some of its sites.

Since very few people have the Silverlight plug-in at this time compared to Adobe’s dominance with Flash video on the web, this will require millions of people to download the Silverlight plug-in before they can use the advanced features of the While it is a fast and safe to download, this could cause NBC to lose viewers that may be afraid to download the plug-in, think will take too much time or are blocked from doing so. Like March madness, many people watch the Olympics from work, but are you allowed to install software on your work computer?

Many think that because of the challenges above, Microsoft had to pay or some how make a sweet deal to NBC to get them to use Silverlight for the games.

Past the games, there is also the trust factor with many when it comes to Microsoft supporting the Mac or other platforms. Do site owners want to start using Silverlight, after all Microsoft killed off Mac IE and the Mac market share is growing fast the last couple of years. It is very hard for larger businesses, no less smaller ones, to make custom sites for different platforms.

Silverlight has also become Microsoft’s latest legal headache. A company little known to the general public called Gotuit Media, charges elements of Silverlight infringe on the video metadata company’s patented technology per a suit filed July 2 in San Francisco Federal Court.  NHL, Sprint, Fox Reality and Lifetime Networks use Gotuit Media’s software.

If Silverlight performs well during the games, Microsoft may finally get into a market it has long to tried to enter with little success. This means Adobe could have a battle on its hands and all of us may see much more of Silverlight on the web.

If you are a manager who deals with buying or setting software standards for your firm, you can count on seeing whitepapers from Microsoft about how well Silverlight performed at the games. I can almost hear the first point Microsoft will be making, “You can create Silverlight content with the same tools you use on a daily basis. Visual Studio.NET.”

Let the games and video begin.

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