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Game On: Adobe, Microsoft, and Others Battle It Out in the Sports Video Space
The NFL is using Adobe Flash and AIR, the Fighting Irish are using Microsoft Silverlight, and companies like Createcna and Envivio are pushing their solutions hard in the sports video marketplace and at IBC.
Tues., Sept. 9, by Tim Siglin

In an article last week, I mentioned the use of Adobe's Flash for streaming of Sunday Night Football Extra. The new event, which is designed to allow live online video streaming of NBC Sunday Night Football games on NFL.com and NBCSports.com, seems to be going well; I had several friends send me unsolicited links to watch the second streamed game on Sunday night.

"I was able to do things during this game," said Carrie Swanay, a communications professor at Milligan College," that I couldn't have done watching the game on TV, such as moving around to different cameras."

Not to be outdone, a reader pointed out that the Fighting Irish are using Microsoft's video offerings to expand their football coverage. The University of Notre Dame's official athletics website, www.und.com, recently launched an updated media player for its free coverage site Fighting Irish All-Access. CBS College Sports Online developed the site, and the new media player uses Microsoft's Silverlight technology.

"Users of Fighting Irish All-Access will no longer be restricted to specific browsers or operating systems to view und.com's video content," the university said in a press release, adding that those who don't have Silverlight, used by NBC during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, "will be required to perform a quick one-time download of the player before accessing the new video player."

As if the football season isn't already competitive enough, Adobe is announcing that it has a second set of NFL games available for both streaming and download. Like Silverlight, Adobe's Flash streams content. The Adobe AIR,an integrated runtime that sits on the desktop, also lets sports fans download particular content in H.264.

DIRECTV’s Sunday Ticket SuperFan acces pass now includes the ability to "stream live NFL games, DIRECTV’s Red Zone Channel and up-to-the-minute scores and statistics in . . . across a wide variety of browsers, desktops, and operating systems."

Notice a pattern here? Adobe's upping the ante again, though, as it announces the ability to download some of this content using Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR). Like Silverlight, Adobe's Flash streams content; an Adobe AIR-based application, though, lets sports fans download particular content in H.264.

"The SUPERCAST application on AIR provides a wide variety of real-time NFL SUNDAY TICKET content right on the desktop," a press release notes, "in high-quality H.264 video, including Red Zone channel’s live-action of critical plays, statistics and moments from game broadcasts, as well as near real-time highlights from all the games. Additionally, fans can receive desktop notification alerts when requested highlights become available."

To level the playing field again, though, Microsoft's putting itself squarely in Adobe's path—and joining the rest of the world. As Dan Rayburn writes on his blog today, Microsoft is choosing to adopt H.264.

The timing is perfectly—and intentionally—aligned with the biggest international broadcasting show, IBC, which takes place this week and next in Amsterdam. The event is the broadcaster's annual international confab, at which H.264 has been a growing presence, while Microsoft's attempt to insert the SMPTE standard VC1 has been met with more and more resistance, especially from those who need to deliver content not just as IPTV or traditional broadcast but also to 3G GSM mobile handsets.

We'll have lots of coverage on various announcements from the show, but a few early announcements highlight the fact that football in all its flavors, as well as other sports like auto racing, are driving streaming adoption.

• Createcna, a Madrid-based company that has been nominated for—and won— previous IBC Innovation Awards, is up again for an Innovation Award for its 3G Mobile Broadcaster. The company's 3G Mobile Studio, a solution for live broadcasting on TV with a 3G mobile handsets, won the Innovation Award in 2005, was nominated again in 2007, and is in the running again for the IBC award with its 3G Broadcaster. Mobile Studio pushed content from mobile phones to the TV studio, for on-air broadcast, while 3G Broadcaster delivers content—in this case sports content—to the phone. Dubbed as "The Broadcaster Experience" the 3G Broadcaster is, according to the company, "a service with special production of live events for mobile phones, a two way channel providing interaction and data download at the same time, and is the Spain’s first free to air business model." Interestingly, in the first five Formula One races that took place in Europe this year, more than 20,.000 connections were reported by the two operators involved in the project.

• Envivio is also slimming down so that it can take on even better mobile broadcasts. The company's 4Caster now has a new version of the codec for its M2 mobile TV encoder. Using what the company dubs as "Extreme Compression" for a claimed 25 per cent increase in performance, Envivio is hoping sports and news broadcasters will notice the additional quality for mobile broadcast and 3G mobile streaming services around the world.

"Operators with both new and existing H.264 based Mobile TV deployments which use the 4Caster M2 will see a difference," said Eric Rosier, Vice President of Engineering at Envivio. "Our in-house codec development team has worked incredibly hard to improve upon the already outstanding performance of the M2 encoder and we are very excited about the results. Envivio has been able to develop an even more efficient mobile TV compression implementation that delivers a truly stunning end user experience on mobile devices."

IBC will be held at the RAI Congress Center in Amsterdam, Sept 12-16.