Live From London: NBC, Cisco Look To Merge First and Second Screens With Videoscape

At this point, Cisco and NBC Olympics can be considered old friends, having worked together to build large-scale IP video-contribution networks at three consecutive Olympic Games, beginning with Beijing in 2008. As with many old friends, their relationship has continued to evolve over the years, but this month in London, NBC and Cisco are taking their partnership to a whole new level, offering a selected group of fans a peek into the future of sports-media consumption.

Using Cisco’s Videoscape technology, NBC is offering some users at Olympic venues and grounds a first-of-its-kind multiscreen experience through mobile and tablet devices: live streams of six NBC networks, hundreds of hours of VOD content, and a stable full of synchronous-screen features.

“The [consumer offering] is absolutely critical to the whole workflow,” says George Tupy, manager, market management, Service Provider Video Solutions, Cisco. “As you can imagine, from content ingest all the way to consumption, there are a lot of moving parts at an event like [the Olympics]. And we have every single building block in Videoscape to deliver an experience to users that was simply not possible before.”

Building on Beijing, Vancouver

In each of the past two Olympic Games, NBC has bolstered its Cisco-built IP contribution network as it continues the shift from tape-based media to file-based workflows.

This year, NBC is relying on a single converged IP network from Cisco for a variety of tasks, including transport of thousands of video assets from London to its studios in New York and Los Angeles. Using this workflow, editors at the NBC Highlights Factory at 30 Rock in New York can select clips and remotely edit event video as it is captured in London.

Cisco gear also has a significant presence in NBC’s infrastructure at the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) and several Olympic venues across London.

Much of this technological collaboration was established in Beijing and Vancouver. However, the final piece of the puzzle — a consumer offering for on-site fans — did not fall into place until this year in London, when Cisco completed the end-to-end Videoscape deployment.

“In Beijing, it started with IP contribution,” Tupy says. “Then, in Vancouver, we did that, as well as more secondary distribution. And this year is the first time where we have a complete Videoscape deployment — all the way from acquisition and origination suites to using media suites for content management to distribution suites for set-top boxes and tablets. It is all over Cisco’s wireless network. This is the first time we have a complete end-to-end [presence].”

Videoscape Changes the Sports-Video Landscape

When NBC announced earlier this year that every minute of the 302 Olympic events in London would be shown live either on TV or online, it opened up a whole new universe of possibilities. But, in an effort to take these newly available feeds even further, NBC brought in Cisco to create an experience that would bridge the gap between live sports event, live television, and live streaming.

Through Cisco’s end-to-end Videoscape platform, NBC is delivering to smartphones and tablets six live TV-network feeds (Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports Network, Telemundo, WNBC) with full DVR functionality, hundreds of hours of on-demand content, and a host of interactive applications synched to the event taking place, including live results, medal counts, and athlete bios.

“Tablets didn’t even exist for content consumption in [Beijing] and were just getting off the ground in Vancouver, so this is a completely new experience,” says Tupy. “Before, people were tied to a set-top box, but now, with Videoscape and tablets, they can access Olympics content anywhere they have access to WiFi.”

These selected users can search live and VOD content, as well as pause and record live TV feeds. Users can also switch from TV to tablet to smartphone while watching the same video stream. And Videoscape enables users to access applications on their mobile and tablet devices that are synchronized to live TV coverage.

An Army of Gear in London

Cisco has provided an array of equipment to support the Olympics Videoscape service, including video encoders and decoders, set-top boxes, DVR video file servers, and a custom-built interactive programming guide.

In addition, Cisco has built out a dedicated IP network just for the Videoscape service at the Games. This network was built on Cisco Nexus Family switches, Cisco Catalyst switches, and Cisco Aironet wireless solutions.

Cisco UCS C-Series 1RU video servers are recording all six NBC U.S. channels. Cisco has even gone as far as providing iPads for guests, who can then play back content on any of the TV sets that NBC has distributed at the Savoy Hotel in London throughout the Games.

“This is as big a platform as you can ask for to prove that Videoscape is a viable solution,” says Tupy. “You don’t get much bigger than the Olympics. Although we have sold a number of Videoscape suites to different customers, this is the first time that there has been a complete end-to-end Videoscape deployment.”

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