NBC Olympics powers digital dominance back home in Stamford
The Olympics proved their special drawing power again. The USA men’s hockey team’s dramatic shootout victory over the host Russians became the most streamed hockey game in both NBC Sports and NBC Olympics history, and that record was subsequently broken twice and will likely be broken again with today’s men’s ice hockey semifinals.
The U.S.-Russia authenticated game — which aired live at 7:30 a.m. ET on a Saturday, mind you — was live-streamed on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports Live Extra app by nearly 600,000 unique users (598,552) and delivered 14.7 million minutes of consumption, surpassing all matchups from the Vancouver Games and the record-setting 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final.
The big numbers further reflect why NBC Sports Group has put such a strong effort behind digital efforts around the Olympics, streaming thousands of hours of live content. With more events than ever taking place at these Winter Games, the network is pleased with the effectiveness of its Web- and mobile-streaming strategy.
“We’re seeing the concurrencies of events is higher, but we’re seeing a lot of demand,” says Eric Black, VP of technology at NBC Sports. “The quality of service has been very good.”
As with many of the technological efforts around these Olympics, much of the manpower and infrastructure has moved from 30 Rockefeller Plaza, NBC Olympics’ traditional home, to the company’s new Stamford, CT, production facility.
As many as four control rooms are humming at once, programming everything from live content on NBCSN to full curling productions for TV and Web and the digital-exclusive Gold Zone, an NFL RedZone-inspired live-event-coverage digital feed, that has its own control room all to itself for the entirety of the Games.
All the control rooms in Stamford have a similar equipment layout, with Sony MVS-7000X production switchers at their core. Each room also houses Chyron Mosaic graphics systems, Abekas Mira DVRs, and Calrec audio consoles with Hydra2.
The major advantages of Stamford over 30 Rock — aside from the brand-new gear — are having facilities that were built specifically for sports and simply having a centralized repository for the entire production.
“Having all of our staff and, ultimately, all of our in-bound feeds originating from this facility is huge for us,” says Black. “We’re taking backhaul back here and sanitizing that data for digital distribution to our various outlets.”
Much like the setup NBC had in Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center for the London Olympics in 2012, the network has set up what it calls the Highlights Factory. The large room on the second floor of the Stamford complex runs nearly 24 hours a day throughout the Olympics and handles everything from cutting highlights to ensuring the quality of live streams.
It’s all made possible again this year through the Avid Interplay media-asset–management (MAM) system. With portals set up at the IBC in Sochi and in Stamford, production staffers are able to pull, share, and post content back and forth between sites and onto NBCOlympics.com and NBC Sports Live Extra.
Between 30 and 50 NBC interns are working the computers at a time making the Highlights Factory run. And that’s not including another staff of 20-30 part-timers working as digital-ad inserters.
Another London innovation that has carried on to the Sochi production is at-home announce booths. Although 11 portable announce booths were temporarily erected at 30 Rock for the London Games, the Stamford facility has permanent announce booths already in place for events like this.
Curling, for example, has an entire control room and studio dedicated to live coverage of the popular sport, and most of the live events are being called by an announce team sitting in Stamford in a booth typically used by NBC Sports’ Formula One broadcast team.
The live video feeds are pumped into the announce booth where the commentators lay down their voices. All of that is mixed in surround sound in the dedicated control room.