MSN lights up Olympic Web site

Microsoft and a group of industry partners flipped the switch Monday on the official Web sites of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, the same day that organizers of the global event gathered in Olympia, Greece, to light the ceremonial torch.

In a joint venture between the National Broadcasting Company Inc. (NBC) and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) for the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Redmond, Washington, software maker wrapped up more than five months of preparation to bring the games online with the launch of a network of Web sites that will offer up-to-the-minute Olympic results and related news content.

The Olympic Committee likely breathed a sign of relief when the sites went live. Microsoft picked up the assignment only after the original technology partner chosen to host the Olympic Web site and manage the infrastructure behind it dropped out. Logictier Inc., a managed service provider based in San Mateo, California, pulled out in May after announcing plans to reorganize its business.

Quokka Sports Inc., which held a portion of the rights to the Olympic Web operations along with NBC, also gave up its torch-bearing duties when it closed in April. Quokka managed to draw 5.6 million unique visitors online during the 2000 Summer Olympics, but failed to turn it into a viable business.

IBM also retired from its Olympic duties following the Summer Games in Sydney, turning over its responsibilities managing the computer system that tracks real-time event results as well as the entire network of information services.

"We really have had no snags; it's been remarkable," said Perkins Miller, director and general manager of Internet productions with SLOC, about Monday's launch of the Web sites.

Microsoft's MSN network and MSNBC.com, the joint venture between Microsoft and General Electric Co.'s NBC, are now responsible for hosting the Web sites and creating all of the content and services that will be available online, Miller said. Sema Group, a division of New York-based IT giant Schlumberger Ltd., is taking over most of IBM's role managing the computer system.

"It has been a pretty monumental accomplishment to move over more than 6,000 pages of content to a new publishing model and bring it up online," he said of the switch to MSN. "Microsoft has contributed enormous resources to this venture."

The Web properties managed by Microsoft and NBC are online at http://www.nbcolympics.com and http://www.saltlake2002.com. For the first time, the Olympic Committee's official site at http://www.olympics.com will also fall under the management of the Microsoft-NBC venture. That site was formerly managed with technology support from IBM.

Each of the three official sites will act as gateways to the vast libraries of statistics, feature stories and real-time news about the games, but they will each take a slightly different spin, Miller said. Olympics.com, for instance, will be geared toward international viewers, and will include French-language content as well as English. The combined Web properties are expected to attract more than 10 million unique visitors during games.

Microsoft also announced Monday that Qwest Communications International Inc. and the Chevrolet division of General Motors Corp. have signed on as the first sponsors of the official Winter Olympics Web sites.

In addition to plastering its logo on the Web sites, Qwest is sponsoring a feature on the Web sites called Olympic News Alerts, which will deliver automatic news alerts to a user's handheld computer or PC desktop. Qwest will also sponsor an interactive feature called "You be the Judge," which allows Web watchers to submit scores during figure skating events.

Other partnership that will show up on the Microsoft-NBC sites include one with eBay Inc. to manage online auctions of Olympic memorabilia. Tickets.com Inc. is hosting online ticket sales for the events, and Monster.com Inc. will host online communities.

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