NBCU Fights Olympics Piracy

For the 2010 Winter Olympics, NBC is de-emphasizing its focus on streaming the games live on the Web in favor of short highlight clips. And it’s doing its damnedest to make sure that fans can’t find unauthorized or illegally posted live footage of any events.

After boasting of streaming more than 2,200 hours of live video during the Summer Olympics in 2008, the network will only stream hockey and curling events live on the Web this year—roughly 400 hours of video. That means if American favorites like skier Lindsey Vonn or snowboarder Shaun White are competing in a crucial race during the day, fans not in front of a TV will not be able to watch those events.

“One of the things we learned in Beijing is that people really go to the Web for highlights,” said Perkins Miller, svp, digital media at NBC, who noted that the Winter Games featured fewer than 90 medal events, versus over 300 for the Summer Games. “It is about the watercooler moment and staying connected to the games through instant storytelling. People are not dying to watch lots of long-form content on a 13-inch screen.”

Yet, as the 2008 games showed, the more tech-savvy fans can find ways to stream long-form events. Some accessed international feeds by disguising the fact that they are logged on from the U.S., while others viewed illegally posted broadcasts which have crept up on live video sites like Justin.tv or Ustream.

Thus, NBC is planning to actively police the Web during the games, using  tools to crawl the Web and block content automatically whenever possible (NBC commonly utilizes YouTube’s Content ID tools to do this). NBC is also issuing rapid takedown notices when needed.

“Our aim is to make access to pirated material inconvenient, low quality and hard to find,” said Rick Cotton, NBC’s evp and general counsel. In terms of Web piracy, “you are never going to go to zero. But there has been a sea change in terms of recognition of the problem.”

To that end, the network has also reached out directly to Ustream and Justin.tv looking to prevent Olympic content from ending up on those sites. Both have pledged to employ blocking technology and to stay on top of illegal postings. However, because of the site’s open nature, it’s not easy to stop all the rule breakers, explained Ustream founder Brad Hunstable. “We do 30,000 broadcasts a day,” he said. “We’ve put a stake in ground…that we’re pro copyright. But I’m not going to tell you that it doesn’t ever happen.”

Blocking live broadcasts is particularly daunting. While a network can supply ID data of existing shows, it’s tough to do for a show that hasn’t been recorded yet. “For some events, if you don’t catch it within two hours, the event is over,” said Justin.tv CEO Michael Seibel.

To that end, Seibel has tapped tech vendor Vobile which claims it can spot live pirated content within seconds.

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