Adobe Systems' Flash technology may not have qualified for the Olympics, but it is in tip-top shape for the National Football League season just getting under way.
With the bulk of NFL teams hitting the gridiron in earnest Sunday, it'll be Flash that delivers the live video streaming on the Web of NBC's Sunday Night Football games. This marks the first time that full-length NFL games are widely available online in the U.S., according to Adobe and the NFL.
The NFL-Adobe partnership wouldn't normally be quite so notable--after all, Flash is one of the most well-established technologies on the Web. But it was only a few short weeks ago that NBC had delivered streaming video from the Beijing Olympics courtesy of a technology that's looking to overturn Flash's dominance: Microsoft Silverlight.
The Olympics deal no doubt stuck in Adobe's craw; NBC has said that it initially expected to use Flash for the Olympics. Adobe's press release on the NFL deal certainly doesn't mention the upstart Silverlight by name, but it does get in a subtle bit of trash-talking--the widespread, existing installation of Flash on desktop PCs "will enable fans to access NFL games on the Web without having to download additional software."
Anyone who wanted to watch NBC's online streaming of the Olympics first had to download Silverlight, an additional step that some folks may not have been ready to take.
Its name notwithstanding, the Web-streamed Sunday Night Football Extra (delivered via NFL.com and NBCSports.com) made its debut Thursday, with the season's inaugural game between the Washington Redskins and last season's Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants. On Sunday, the streaming video will start up on its namesake day with the Week 1 nighttime contest between the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts.
Beyond the live streaming, fans get some interactive extras, including alternative camera angles, in-game highlights, live statistics, and a live blog.
The experience may be something of a mixed bag. Writing at Silicon Alley Insider, Michael Learmouth had this to say about Thursday night's streaming video:
We gave it a try and there were some hiccups. Inititally, we couldn't get the live stream, and were told we had been placed in a queue 'due to overwhelming demand.'
Once the video began, it was pixelated and jumpy, and there's no full-screen mode. But there were some cool features, such as a 'star cam' trained on individual players like Fred Smoot and Plaxico Burress.
We were asked to watch a Sprint pre-roll ad to get to the video, and there were a few online ads within the broadcast, but not nearly as many as on TV. In fact, during most TV ad breaks, online viewers were sent to the NFL network studio for recaps of other games, which is nice but perhaps a sign advertising for the Webcast wasn't sold out.
As for the Flash-Silverlight competition, that will have to play itself out over time. As noted by Paul Glazowski at the Mashable blog:
It's not an impossibility for Silverlight to grow, mind you. Given the right level of attention to the platform, Microsoft could mark its Olympic foray as only the first big starter in the long slog toward mass adoption. But 'could' is the key word. The hill climbs (yes, climbs plural) will be trying.
One key challenge, Glazowski says, is "to convince the public of its validity and utility in the presence" of a "semi-household" name like Flash.