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Live Webcast

Success!

Published Mach 8, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

One word summarizes the world's first live Web broadcast of an athletic event in near-TV quality: success! On Saturday February 27, 1999, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association indoor track and field championship was broadcast live on the World-Wide Web in its entirety, ushering the dawn of a new era in sports broadcasting.

The critics countered that the Web has shown a live childbirth, paraded lingerie models to a million viewers, and broadcast live feeds for many television stations. Yet, none of these activities featured the high bandwidth content of runners sprinting down a track at 10 meters per second.

For eight hours, the sights and the sounds of the Carrier Dome were carried at a rate of 20 frames per second and a resolution of 320 by 240 pixels. In contrast, prior Web broadcasts achieved a fraction of that frame rate and resolution. The technical complexity necessary to achieve a near-TV quality live Web broadcast exceeds the scope of this running column.

Before February 27, sports broadcasting relied on the three primary mass media of print, radio and television. The successful Web broadcast of the indoor championship gave legitimacy to a fourth medium. It is only a matter of time before the World-Wide Web replaces television as the medium of choice for many sports.

By a stroke of fate, the State scholastic championship coincided with the national indoor track and field championship. As track fans lamented about NBC's poor coverage of the national championship, and Runner's World Online proclaimed the most extensive online track meet coverage through text and fuzzy pictures, the live Web broadcast of the State indoor championship delivered track at its best.

There were no commercial breaks on the Web, no up-close-and-personal athlete profiles, no tape delay, no instant replays, no local blackouts, no preemption for political scandals and no sensational interviews. Instead, there were eight hours of pure live track competition in near-TV quality video, backed by heat assignments and timely results.

Granted, the audience for the live Web broadcast was limited to cable modem subscribers and corporate local area network users. Telephone lines and dial-up modems do not have the necessary capacity to carry the live video stream. Nevertheless, viewers tuned in from across the Empire State, from Long Island to Buffalo, and from across the Nation.

Far from using standard technology, the live Web broadcast required many years of expertise and thousands of hours of study and hard work. By pushing the bubble in computer engineering, a complex system was developed that maximized the probability of success.

When the appointed hour came, a make-shift system of twelve sleepless workers, eleven mirror sites, ten web pages, nine months of planning, eight walkie-talkies, seven packet routers, six personal computers, five TV monitors, four video cameras, three VCRs, two back-up servers and one video switcher erupted into a symphony that carried the live track action around the world.

Two years ago, in this column, I predicted that the men's 10,000-meter race at the Sydney 2000 Olympics will be carried live on the Web, all 25 laps of it. When this happens, as I am confident it will, a dozen New Yorkers will proudly claim that they have already "been there, done that."

Just for the record, I extend my congratulations to Shoopong Yacharn and Robert Alexander, the Syracuse University Computer Engineering students who developed the broadcast as a senior project. In addition, I am grateful to the volunteers Randa Jabbour, Dr. Marla Bennett, Marc Jabbour, Pat Leone Jr., Paula Jabbour, Dr. Mark Driscoll, Jenn Barber, Pete Montague, Dan Jennings and Muris Kobaslija who donated their time for a free lunch.

Dr Kamal Jabbour certifies that Shoop and Rob have successfully presented their senior project. Jabbour's RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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