How Silverlight Works

Silverlight Video

NBC used Silverlight to broadcast Olympic events over the Web to certain users in the United States.
NBC used Silverlight to broadcast Olympic events over the Web to certain users in the United States.
(HSW Screenshot -- no credit)

Bill Gates was the main keynote speaker at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Showcase (CES). The speech marked his final CES presentation as chairman of Microsoft. That evening, Mr. Gates unveiled many new Microsoft projects, products and services. Among them was a partnership with NBC to broadcast the Olympics online within the United States.

NBC had already obtained the television rights to broadcast the Olympics in the United States. In addition to traditional televised broadcasts, NBC, along with Microsoft, offered Olympic coverage online at its Web site. Visitors had to download and install Silverlight to their computers in order to watch the video. Some tech journalists questioned the decision -- while Silverlight is a powerful platform, Adobe Flash has a much larger presence in the market. Most PCs already have Flash and comparatively few people had downloaded Silverlight. It seemed to some journalists that NBC was conducting a risky experiment.

Was the pairing a success? That depends on who tells the story. According to an article in The New York Times, NBC's Olympics Web site provided more than 72 million streams of video to viewers during the Olympics [source: Stelter]. But blogs like TechCrunch contend that other sites covering the Olympics -- sites that didn't feature any video at all -- had more visitors than NBC's site [source: Schonfeld]. Some blogs also reported rumors that advertisers weren't happy with NBC's online performance.

Perhaps NBC would have had more online viewers if the company had chosen Adobe Flash as its streaming video platform. Or maybe more people would have viewed the games on the Web if NBC hadn't limited the events broadcast online. But even if some called the experiment disappointing, Microsoft knows that millions of people downloaded Silverlight. In Microsoft's book, that counts as a win.

Microsoft has formed partnerships with other big names in the United States. In late 2007, Major League Baseball's streaming video player switched to Silverlight. CBS chose Silverlight when the company created an interactive Web platform for user-generated content. And the National Basketball Association chose Silverlight for its online media player as well.

Will Silverlight become the next big Internet standard? It's still too early to tell. You might argue that it's more robust than Adobe Flash, but then again Flash has a much deeper penetration in the market. Ultimately, whichever technology comes out on top will provide users with what they want: an immersive Web browsing experience.

To learn more about Silverlight and related topics, shine a light on the links found below.

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More Great Links


  • Cooper, Charles. "We all love this Olympics, right? Not Adobe." CNet. Aug. 14, 2008. (Sept 10, 2008)
  • Frommer, Dan. "Adobe: Silverlight Who? Flash Video Dominated Olympics Worldwide." Silicon Alley Insider. Aug. 27, 2008. (Sept. 9, 2008) olympics-worldwide-adbe-msft-
  • LaMonica, Martin. "Silverlight on Linux? We're in, says Mono founder." CNet. May 1, 2007. (Sept. 10, 2008)
  • Learmonth, Michael. "NFL, NBC Tap Adobe's Flash For Live Football." Silicon Alley Insider. Sept. 4, 2008. (Sept. 10, 2008)
  • MacDonald, Matthew. "Silverlight 2 Visual Essentials." Apress. 2008.
  • MacDonald, Matthew. "Silverlight and ASP.NET Revealed." Springer. 2007.
  • Matyszczyk, Chris. "Are online advertisers disappointed in NBC's Olympic performance?" CNet. Aug. 18, 2008. (Sept. 10, 2008)
  • Microsoft Developer Network. ".NET Framework Programming in Visual Studio." November 2007. (Sept. 9, 2008)
  • Microsoft Development Network. "Silverlight." 2008. (Sept. 8, 2008)
  • Microsoft Development Network. "Windows Presentation Foundation." November 2007. (Sept. 8, 2008)
  • Microsoft Silverlight. "News." (Sept. 10, 2008)
  • Moroney, Laurence. "Beginning Web Development, Silverlight and ASP.NET AJAX." Apress, 2008.
  • Schonfeld, Erick. "No Matter How NBC Spins It, Olympics Web Strategy Comes Up A Loser." TechCrunch. Aug. 25, 2008. (Sept. 10, 2008) web-strategy-comes-up-a-loser/
  • Stelter, Brian. "Web Audience for Games Soars for NBC and Yahoo." The New York Times. Aug. 24, 2008. (Sept. 10, 2008)
  • The Java Tutorials. "What Is an Object?" Feb. 14, 2008. (Sept. 10, 2008)
  • Wenz, Christian. "Essential Silverlight." O'Reilly. 2008.
  • Wildermuth, Shawn. "Getting Started with Silverlight." O'Reilly. 2007.