The catalyst for this? NBC's broadcasting strategy for the 2008 Olympics. It's easy to look at what's disappointing about this effort (The lack of access to this great tool outside of the US and the somewhat challenging process of identifying your local NBC broadcaster but the benefits of NBC's actions and consumer demand will, I suspect, make these constraints go away in the future too.
NBC is basically conducting the largest online media event that has EVER been done on the Web. They'll offer up over 3,600 hours of video coverage and highlights that will reach tens of millions of viewers and enable hundreds of thousands of viewers to CONCURRENTLY watch events live or after the fact in the most mainstream Web browsers available for Windows PCs and the Mac. Below is a screen capture of the enhanced player with LIVE commentary.
The site is about far more than just streaming video. Enhanced modes in the player provide a wide screen experience, picture in picture and what I like to call the 'Elvis' mode which lets you go into a control room and watch 4 events at one. This is couple with commentary integration and a rich interactive navigation structure that lets truly see how much content is available.
There are three ingredients that were necessary to make this happen. One was a business rationale and way to monetize this experience. Truthfully this is where the regulatory structure of broadcasting and business models have work that must continue and it's also where existing online models fall short. The cost of the infrastructure and bandwidth and the regulatory environment of broadcast rights have been historical barriers. More cost effective technology and new service-focused advertising scenarios are what rationalized this effort for NBC.
The second was the technology that can make it happen. In this particular case NBC chose to use Silverlight because it was the most cost effective and scalable media presentation technology that could be used for this event. Silverlight made what NBC was attempting to do possible where just a year a ago it wouldn't have been possible from a cost and scalability perspective. Just like Tivo changed how consumers consume and watch traditional broadcasting I think Silverlight has the ability to change how we consume content as a connected social community online.
Finally, NBC focused on the experience and brought the 'long tail' of the Olympics to consumers. Gymnastics clubs across the US for example can now see everything that occurs at the Olympics, from training and trials and warm-ups to the entire event without having it crosscut with other competing events.
If you want to see the Olympics and everything that makes it a truly breathtaking event check it out at http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/
If you like what NBC is doing let them know about it at firstname.lastname@example.org