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Network opens its online Olympic coverage

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By Kevin Voigt
For CNN
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(CNN) -- No broadcaster shows how fast and far digital media has come than the U.S. network NBC Universal's plans for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In the 2006 Turin Winter Games, NBC streamed only one hockey game online. This year, NBC will stream 2,200 hours of 25 events live, with nearly the entire 4,000 hours of the games available on archive for North American Internet users.

CNN spoke with Perkins Miller, SVP Digital Media, NBC Sports and Olympics, about the dawn of the digital games. Here are edited excerpts:

CNN: In 2006, there was scant live online video of the games. This year in Beijing, it's ubiquitous. What's changed?

Miller: The significant change is the amount of video you are able to put online. YouTube is now sort of the lingua franca of what's happening (on the Internet), and that's really expanded in the past two years. The driving force is about entertaining the viewer, and ... viewer appetites and points of contact have changed. That's not just putting it online, but (viewer on demand) transmission, moving content onto mobile phones. The ambition is to reach as many viewers as possible.

CNN: And the technology has changed as well in the past two years.

Miller: Yes, video player technology is much better today, processor connections and network connection feed is much better. They are all linked, but the real driver is consumers have been exposed to online video, and expect it.

CNN: Doesn't the amount of online streaming threaten to cannibalize NBC's broadcast viewers and advertising revenue?

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Miller: We find that online coverage for all our sports properties -- whether its horse racing, Notre Dame football games or whatever -- the more we do online, the more our viewers are engaged in the sports franchise. This drives overall greater (viewership). It's complementary ... if the viewer is not at their television to see a routine, you can see it online. If you are a huge fan of (U.S. gymnast) Shawn Johnson, and want to see a routine again and again, you can get even more Shawn Johnson online.

CNN: Can you imagine a day when online viewers eclipse broadcast viewership?

Miller: If you have a 52-inch flat screen TV at home, that's the place where you want to be ... I can't imagine a day when I don't want to sit with my family and watch the games. That is the unifying central aspect of sports, and I don't see that changing.

But the other day, I was driving with my daughters, who are 10 and 5, and my 10-year-old grabbed my cell phone to Google an answer to a question my younger daughter had -- that's a great change from when I was 10. So it's hard for me to imagine how this will accelerate. Our research shows that if you look at households with children, there are more laptops than televisions in the house. The way kids are approaching the world, seeing technology as a tool, is changing things.

CNN: What are the challenges you face for online broadcast of the Beijing games.

Miller: There's a huge amount of coordination with more than 17 different technology partners in a wide variety of places -- Beijing, Redmond (Washington state), New York, Italy, Florida. These are the vendors who are developing the software, platforms and hardware to make it all happen.

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Also, we don't get to correct the final fingertip connection -- how do we ensure in a very short period of time that we get the best quality (of streaming video) for those last centimeters of connection?

Television is pretty standardized, but computers are still the frontier, they are different from computer to computer, they have software that may or may not be able to talk to each other. This is still a very new enterprise, not tried and tested and proved over decades of use (such as broadcast television).

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