Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Beijing 2008 Olympics Online Coverage Blocked for Apple and Linux Users?

A blog entry by Tim Bray, speculates that the 2008 Beijing Olympics will only be available online to Microsoft Windows users and those with newer Apple Macs. This seems unlikely, as if for no other reason it would make the Olympics less accessible to the disabled, exposing NBC and Microsoft to lawsuits for unlawful discrimination. I was one of the expert witnesses in the accessibility case over the 2000 Olympics and invited to Beijing in 2003 to talk at a BOCOG 2008 Olympic web site symposium.
Not all is sweetness and light around the Olympics. The 2008 version in Beijing will be made available online; but only via Silverlight. Which means that if you use a Linux or Solaris box, or one of the few million pre-Intel Macs that are still out there, the Olympic Community doesn’t want peons like you on board. This seems scandalous to me, but nobody else seems to care.

From: Tab Sweep — World, Tim Bray, 2008/01/13
Just to unravel what is being said: Silverlight is a Microsoft developed web browser plugin to provide similar features to Adobe Flash. Tim refers to a blog entry by a Microsoft staff member who makes claims about exclusive coverage of the Olympics:

On 8-8-08 the 2008 Summer Olympic Games will officially kick off in Beijing, China. ...

We have signed an agreement to partner with NBC Universal to build a Silverlight 2.0 based web broadcast of the 2008 Summer Olympic games. This agreement also sets MSN as the official home of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

As a part of this, we will provide users with exclusive access to over 3000 hours of live and on-demand video content via Silverlight streaming. This means that viewers can access every minute of every event. Additionally, the amount of meta-data attached to each of the streams will be extensive and include links to player bios, medal counts, shortcuts to particular events (i.e. athlete x’s third long-jump attempt), maps of the Olympic facilities, pop-up overlays with real-time event alerts, headlines, video search capabilities, etc. ...

From: 2008 Olympics brought to you by Silverlight, January 07, 2008 2:54 AM, Somasegar

This in turn refers to an agreement with NBC, which was reported earlier by news sources:
... NBC Universal, owner of the exclusive U.S. media rights to this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing, China (August 8-24, 2008), announced today that it was teaming up with MSN and Microsoft in an unprecedented strategic alliance to create "NBCOlympics.com on MSN", a next-generation online experience for Olympic fans across the United States. With thousands of hours of competition video in both live and on-demand formats, deep analysis and results delivered from NBC's award-winning broadcast and digital media teams, and Microsoft's Silverlight technology to deliver deeply immersive user experiences, NBCOlympics.com's coverage will be powered by MSN and Microsoft technology to complement NBC's broadcast programming and put millions of fans in control of the Olympic sports,
athletes and countries they want to watch.
.... During the Beijing Games, NBCOlympics.com (www.nbcolympics.com) content will be prominently featured on the MSN.com homepage (www.msn.com), seen by
over 100 million users per month, as well as on MSN Video (video.msn.com) and across the MSN and Windows Live networks, all moving the massive MSN Network audience to NBCOlympics.com's complete coverage of the Games.

As a result of this unprecedented alliance, "NBCOlympics.com on MSN" will
deliver: -- 2,200 hours of live event video coverage, with more than 20
simultaneous live video streams at peak times
-- More than 3,000 hours of on-demand video content including full-event
replays, highlights, features, interviews and encore packages.
-- An "enhanced playback mode" powered by Silverlight that gives users the
choice of a high-quality full screen viewing experience that is as good
or better than anything on the Internet today
-- Unique metadata overlays powered by Silverlight that enable fans to
have access not only to high quality video, but also to the wealth of
related content including results, statistics, comprehensive bios,
rules and expert analysis from NBC's Olympic digital media team in
-- Live video alerts so fans can stay connected to the events and teams
they care most about
-- Social networking features that enable fans to share aspects of their
Olympic experience with friends ...

Adam Freifeld of NBC Sports, +1-201-965-2971, adam.freifeld@nbcuni.com; or
Adam Sohn of Microsoft, +1-503-443-7000, adamso@microsoft.com

From: NBC Universal and Microsoft Team Up On Unprecedented Web Offering for 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Reuters, an 6, 2008 9:30pm EST
Some points to note from this:
  1. USA only: The International Olympic committee allocates TV rights to the games on a country basis. NBC only has the U.S. media rights to 2008 Olympics and so whatever is done will only effect those in the USA.
  2. Video Only: The media release was about the way video will be delivered online, it does not necessary mean that other Olympic information, such as text, audio and still images will be delivered this way. In addition, even if NBC and Microsoft only deliver information in this format, similar information should be available from other Olympic suppliers.
  3. Accessibility Law: Under the laws of the USA, Australia, UK and many other countries, organizations providing services via the web are required to supply them to persons with a disability. Failing to do this is unlawful. This principle was established in the 2000 Sydney Olympics case which I was an expert witness for. It seems unlikely that NBC or Microsoft could fail to be aware of their obligation to provide access for the disabled to Olympic coverage. Microsoft's web site includes a case study for the Toronto 2008 Olympic Bid, which mentions accessibility for people with a disability. Microsoft's search engine returned 250,000 hits on "2000 olympics web accessibility" and 16,000 on "2008 Olympics "web accessibility".
See also:

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