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NBC Chases Digital Gold

Along with all the records it will broadcast from the Olympics over the next few weeks, NBC is setting one of its own. Thanks to storage systems from Isilon Systems
and Avid Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: AVID), the networks editors and producers are making the Athens Olympics the first to be shot completely in digital video.

The systems are part of an overall process NBC uses to digitize, edit, and index the content of the Olympic games. Digital content allows producers to review and select footage more quickly, but also gives NBC a lot more video to store.

“In the past almost everything was on videotape," says Matt Adams, director of technology for NBC Olympics. “The storage requirements for digital video are large. We believe this is the most ambitious live-event digitization effort ever.”

Is that an Olympian overstatement? Perhaps not. Using digital content for TV and motion pictures isn't new, but few broadcast events are on the scale of the Olympics (see Storage Vendors Watch Video). The 17-day Olympic TV coverage consists of 1,210 hours of digital content, shot at 38 sites, broadcast over six NBC-owned networks, including Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, and USA Network. About one-third of those hours will be stored in high-definition format, which uses files from five to ten times the size of standard broadcast video. So the undertaking is clearly ambitious.

But it might be a stretch to call the Olympics a "live event," at least from a TV perspective. In case you haven’t caught on, none of NBC’s weeknight primetime coverage is live. Athens is seven hours ahead of EDT, and none of that running, diving, and pommel horsing is going on at four in the morning New York time.

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