NBC Olympics powers digital dominance back home in Stamford

Even though ratings have been down in the U.S. for the NBC Sports’ coverage of the Sochi Games, the Olympics proved they still that special drawing power when 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.

NBC Olympics' digital feed Gold Zone is produced out of one of the four control rooms in Stamford dedicated to the Sochi Olympics.

NBC Olympics’ digital feed Gold Zone is produced out of one of the four control rooms in Stamford dedicated to the Sochi Olympics.

The authenticated game – which aired live at 7:30 a.m. ET on a Saturday morning 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 in 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 man power 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.

The 'Highlights Factory' runs nearly 24-hours-a-day building highlight packages and inserting ads into the live streams of events.

The ‘Highlights Factory’ runs nearly 24-hours-a-day building highlight packages and inserting ads into the live streams of events.

All of the control rooms in Stamford have a similar equipment layout with Sony MVS7000X production switchers are their cores. Each room also houses Chryon Mosaics, Abekas Mira DVRs, and Calrec audio consoles with Hydra 2.

The major advantages of Stamford over 30 Rock – aside from the brand new gear – are having facilities built specifically for sports in mind 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.”

Highlights Factory
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 no on the second floor of the Stamford complex runs nearly 24 hours a day for whole Olympics and handles everything was 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.

Some event commentators were kept home in Stamford, calling the live action from one of these permanent announce booths.

Some event commentators were kept home in Stamford, calling the live action from one of these permanent announce booths.

Anywhere between 30-50 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 who are working as digital ad inserters.

At-Home Announcers
Another London innovation that has carried on to the Sochi production is at-home announce booths. While 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 such as 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 don their voices. All of that is mixed in surround sound back in the dedicated control room.