NBC goes for the gold with live streaming Olympics app

Olympics aficionados, rejoice. NBC Olympics—the broadcast network’s sports division handling coverage of the London 2012 Olympic Summer Games—rolled out two free mobile apps on Thursday aimed at helping you enjoy the Games, either independently or on a second screen.

Of the two apps, NBC Olympics Live Extra is the more compelling and noteworthy release: It’s your passport to bringing the Games right to your mobile device. You’ll be able to live stream more than 3,500 hours of content, encompassing the opening and closing ceremonies, all competitions in each of the 32 Olympic sports, and all 302 medal events.

According to NBC, the “majority” of the coverage is only available to cable, satellite, and telecom customers who subscribe to television services that include both CNBC and MSNBC, so if you’ve already cut your cable cord, you’re out of luck with the NBC Olympics Live Extra app. NBC uses Adobe Pass to validate your TV subscription service, so you can use its app and online-based Live Extra service. (Both of NBC’s Olympics apps, in fact, were created in partnership with Adobe.)

More than 200 cable operators support the authentication technique used by NBC Olympics Live Extra, including Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Cox, DirectTV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. You’ll only need to sign in once throughout the Games on a given device, but you’ll need your account username and password from your provider to use this service. (For reference, WatchESPN, a live sports streaming app from cable network ESPN, handles sign-in in a similar manner.) The same thing goes for using NBC Olympics Live Extra services through its Web streaming coverage, which will be another way to see the same live coverage of what’s going on in London without waiting for the primetime “packaged” broadcasts.

One of the coolest aspects to Olympics Live Extra will be the ability to see multiple concurrent streams for some sports, such as gymnastics, track and field, and tennis. Want to watch what’s happening with Team Russia on the uneven bars rotation instead of Team USA on the floor exercise? No problem. You’ll also be able to choose different camera angles, though NBC’s initial announcement doesn’t mention which sports will get this multistream treatment.

Live streaming is great, but what if you want to relive that golden moment, time and again? Sadly, we’re not quite at a point where we can record the content for future viewing directly on our mobile devices. However, in addition to supporting pause and 30-second rewind on the live streams, Adobe says NBC’s app will also have cloud-based video-on-demand content. Each event has specific rules for when recordings will be made available, and for how long these events will be available for viewers. Not every event will be archived in its entirety, though, and NBC Sports is still making the determination about what content is available. It’s not the holy grail of digitally preserving Olympics coverage, but it is a start.

You’ll be limited to enjoying the content on your smartphone or tablet; output control for TV is not enabled in the app, likely due to rights issues. NBC Olympics Live Extra, and its companion app NBC Olympics, will work on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch for iOS, and on “select” Android phones and tablets. (You can find NBC Olympics and NBC Olympics Live Extra on Google Play.) NBC did not specify the requirements for the apps to work on Android, but we're working on getting a list from Adobe. We can report, though, that the apps do not work right now on the new Google Nexus 7 tablet, and we've seen reports of other tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7, not working either.

The other app released Thursday—NBC Olympics—aims to be your up-to-the-minute multitasker’s backstage access to all things Olympics. This app complements what you’ll see on NBC’s nightly primetime broadcast, with supplemental information, Facebook and Twitter integration, and a Primetime Companion with slideshows, polls, trivia, videos, and athlete bios that are synced to what’s on air. The app will also offer standard fare like live results, event schedules, TV and online listings, and news.

The two apps are tightly interconnected and immersive, so you can switch seamlessly among the two.

As presented, the NBC Olympics Live Extra app sounds terrific, even if it falls short of what the ultimate Olympic junkie’s ideal may be for viewing and capturing the action. It also sounds like it will deliver on many of the promises that didn’t quite come to fruition four years ago with NBC’s ambitiously planned Silverlight-based Web coverage of the Beijing Olympics.

Once the Games get underway, I’ll follow up with a report on how the apps work in practice, as opposed to theory.

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