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The Olympics: A Digital Frenzy Like No Other


With each passing year, events that invite a media blitz are increasingly turning into digital phenomena. It happens with the Super Bowl, it's certainly happening with the presidential campaign and now, it's the Olympics.

This year's Olympics, which kicked off today, could mark a jump-off point in the digitalization of the games, according to Lehman analyst Doug Anmuth. In a presentation to investors, Anmuth called the Beijing proceedings "the potential watershed event" in squeezing Web dollars out of the Olympics.

In ad spend alone, this year's Olympic Games looks to be a blockbuster: Anmuth is projecting that marketers will shell out $100 million for online campaigns tied to the games.

Of course, among the online heavies the principal beneficiary of this windfall will be Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), whose MSN property is powering NBCOlympics.org, which has exclusive U.S. streaming rights to the games.

In the partnership with NBC, Microsoft's Silverlight technology will deliver 3,500 hours of live streaming and on-demand video coverage of the events. No event that NBC is broadcasting live on TV will be streamed live online, but many will go up within minutes of the conclusion.

Previous Olympics have seen limited Web video on-demand, but this will be the first time live streaming will be available within the United States. Ad inventory is available in the form of 15- and 30-second preroll and midroll units.

Microsoft is also tailoring its search engine to accommodate the expected glut of Olympic-related queries. As a way of reporting the buzz, Microsoft Live Search is issuing each athlete an "xRank" to indicate the person's popularity as a search term, and whether it has been increasing or decreasing.

Rejiggering search engines

But Microsoft isn't alone in rejiggering its search engine in a nod to Olympic fever.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) are both introducing shortcuts on their search engines that will serve up Olympic information at a glance on results pages.

Google is going a step farther with a dedicated Olympics page and a downloadable gadget for its iGoogle portal.

Google has placed a link to its Olympics site on its famously uncluttered home page; Yahoo.com is now featuring a medal counter.

Google's YouTube today launched its Summer Games channel, which will feature reporting on all things Beijing -- not just the Games, but also news, cultural and travel pieces from media groups such as the Associated Press, New York Times and the Travel Channel.

YouTube's involvement in the games goes deeper than that. Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee launched an official YouTube channel to feature the games in 77 territories where video-on-demand rights are available.

[cob:Special_Report]Because NBC's deal is exclusive, the IOC/YouTube channel is not available in the United States.

Of course, this is 2008, and Web events aren't about top-down content presentation. Certainly not. A fine example of this, the first Web 2.0 Olympics, comes from computer maker Lenovo.

Lenovo, an official sponsor of the games, is maintaining a forum for about 100 athletes from around the world to blog about their experiences.

Of course, the unprecedented digital coverage this year's Olympics are garnering comes with a significant asterisk. China remains highly restrictive of its citizens' Internet access, and there have already been complaints about site blocking from reporters covering the games.