NBC Sports Streaming Capacity Will Be Tested by Sochi—and Soccer

Games heat up at same time as Premier League

NBC Sports better be careful with its Web coverage of the Winter Olympics, or it might have an international incident on its hands.

After all, the last thing that the network needs is a bunch of angry Manchester United fans.

That’s because, for all the angst and tension surrounding Sochi, NBCU has a delicate Web balancing act to pull off. As it endeavors to stream over 1,000 hours of live Olympics action on NBCOlympics.com, the network also has to keep its Premier League commitment.

NBC streams every Premier League contest, 32 of which will occur during the Winter Games, including six next Tuesday and four next Wednesday. Those midweek contests will be going on just as the U.S. hockey team takes the ice and as the pairs figure skating events commence.

Thus, NBCU is dialing up its streaming capacity, leaning hard on partners like Adobe, Microsoft and Akamai to make sure nobody misses a goal (either in hockey or soccer).

“We don’t walk in here blind,” said Rick Cordella, svp, gm, digital media, NBC Sports Group. “We stream big things. For example, Sunday Night football gets a really big Web audience. We’ve handled scaled audiences without any issue. But never before have there been [as many] other things going on our platform. We’ve just got to rely on that same video stack.”

That stack helped NBC Sports handle 30 concurrent streams at one time during the 2012 Summer Games in London. During that period, NBC was also streaming a PGA event. But the Premier League/Olympics combo represents the biggest dual-demand event for the company.

One thing that NBC is less worried about this time around is piracy. Cordella explained that the International Olympic Committee has a large task force dedicated to tackling the issue. And NBCU is confident in its technology partners' ability to help fingerprint its content and keep it off the wrong sites.

Cordella also believes that since NBCU’s Olympics streaming is ostensibly free, piracy temptation will be mitigated. That’s mostly true, though users will still have to figure out how to prove they pay for cable by authenticating on NBCOlympics.com.

Easier said than done, which is why the company has commissioned communicator extraordinaire Ryan Seacrest to film an explainer video. “We’re trying to make it better all the time,” Cordella said. “We authenticated 10 million devices in London. We think people are willing to figure that out. The value proposition is worth [it] when you get 17 days of coverage. This is a huge moment for TV Everywhere."

Seacrest isn’t emceeing Gold Zone. That falls to Golf Channel host Ran Burr, who will help walk viewers through which events at any given moment are heating up. The plan is to go after the at-work audience in the U.S. each afternoon. There will also be a daily figure skating highlights show, Olympic Ice.

Gold Zone, very much inspired by the NFL’s Red Zone network, will be a “great whip around the Games for viewers that need a little bit of context,” said Cordella.

No soccer highlights are expected to make it into Gold Zone. At least not on purpose. And Cordella isn’t worried at all about the one fear NBC long seemed to harbor: that streaming would mess with prime-time ratings. “In London, we saw people in mass numbers are streaming badminton at 4 a.m. And then the tune in for our nightly movie. There is this overwhelming love of the Olympics," he said.