FutureSport 2016: Discovery and Eurosport reveal plans for Olympic coverage
Eurosport will become the home of the Olympics in Europe from January 1, as part of a deal between its parent company, Discovery Communications, and the International Olympic Committee for the TV and multi-platform rights in 50 European markets for four Games, from 2018 to 2024.
“Discovery is now developing its strategy to bring every moment of the 2018 Olympic Games to more viewers across all screens, looking at migration to IP and cloud for content management and distribution,” said moderator Fergal Ringrose, SVGE’s Executive Editor, in his introduction to Discovery’s session at FutureSport 2016 on November 30.
“Sounds like we’ve got a big job, doesn’t it? I didn’t realise,” responded Simon Farnsworth, SVP, Olympic Technical Distribution, Discovery, to laughter. He oversees content aggregation and will manage the transport of content from the Olympic venues to Discovery.
The rights begin with PyeongChang for the 2018 Winter Olympics, but the deal excluded UK and French rights for 2018 and 2020, and also excluded Russia. However, Discovery has since agreed a deal with the BBC, where it will sublicense rights to the BBC for 2022 and 2024, in return for pay TV rights for the UK for 2018/20. It has since done further sublicensing deals with broadcasters in Europe, including the Netherlands, Finland, and the Czech Republic. “We don’t want to break the Olympic family, we really want to add to it and bring our own twist, whilst also learning from what has been done already,” said Farnsworth.
“No one has ever held the rights in the way we hold them. Historically the EBU has done sublicensing deals, but we will broadcast content across all platforms, whether it’s TV, online, mobile, radio, and that presents us with a fantastic opportunity,” he said.
“It really raises the brand value of Eurosport over the next ten years, which is a fantastic opportunity for us, both from a corporate standpoint and a technology standpoint.” However, “the Olympic sports are not new to Eurosport. We’ve been covering Olympic sports for a long time, so it really fits in with our brand.”
Eurosport will be sole Olympic broadcaster in Germany, Norway and Sweden, where it has free-to-air services.
“We will go really hard in Germany. We will try to get it on more screens than ever before, and it presents a fantastic opportunity for us in that market. We already hold free-to-air licenses in Germany through Eurosport 1 and D-Max, and it allows us to really raise the brand profile of Eurosport in Germany,” said Farnsworth.
It has to make decisions about PyeongChang this month, to meet OBS deadlines. “We’re using IP technology where it makes sense, and we’re using a hybrid of technology within the IBC itself and the production facilities back home in Europe — so, IP between those, IP between some of the venues, remote production concepts within the IBC and at home,” explained Dominic Baillie, Chief Technology Officer, Olympics & Sports, Discovery, who is responsible for developing and implementing the long-term Olympics and sports technology strategy, spanning event production, linear TV and digital media activity across 55 countries in more than 20 languages.
“When we get to Tokyo 2020, we’ll lean more towards home production, where most of our technical staff will be remote, and just talent and enthusiasts will be presenting the games in Tokyo.”
Both of them visited Rio this year, to see the NBC operation, which involved a lot of people on site, and the BBC, which had far fewer people in Brazil. Baillie believes its operations will sit somewhere in the middle, particularly as “it is unprecedented the number of markets that we are working across. But the core team is still quite lean. It is probably about 40 people, made up of operational and technical staff,” including people from each individual market, which will grow to about 600+ on site during the games.
Distribution from PyeongChang
Getting the content back from the Olympics will be complex, “because Eurosport will be utilising about seven production sites across Europe, as well as a huge presence in PyeongChang, and we’ll have two 10gig circuits to bring back from PyeongChang, fully diverse, that will be a truly hybrid IP network,” said Farnsworth.
“It will carry live video, file transfer, corporate IT and corporate WAN, and on top of that we’ve already started building a 10gig Eurosport WAN linking all of our European sports production sites — which is not only for the Olympics. It will allow us to scale beyond the Olympics.”
It is important that it’s extremely robust, particularly as post production will be vital for PyeongChang, given the live events will finish about 3pm (CET), “so when you’ve got primetime European slots we need to be able to be able to turn around very quickly, so the reliability of that network is going to be very crucial.
“We’re also replicating a media asset management system in PyeongChang back in Europe, so we’re constantly transferring files between the two, and then using that Eurosport WAN to get that content out to those regional production sites as quickly as possible.” It is also looking at an Ethernet-based system between the venues “to again give us the production flexibility to scale up and scale down.” For example, if a Norwegian competitor does really well at curling, Eurosport can concentrate on that without needing to buy in any more circuits.
Remote v studio production
“We’ll have some studio control at venues, we’ll do some remote production from venues with studio control in the IBC, we’ll have some channel control at the IBC and some channel control remotely, but I think what’s really important in all of this is to ensure the reliability of the network,” he added. “Robustness and resilience is key, but also to have what I call sensible workflows, because you can develop some really complex workflows that actually aren’t practical.”
“If you think about the challenge we have with PyeongChang, where we have largely Winter sports, where we have eight to ten major markets that are interested — that is their Olympics. When you look at the Summer [Olympics], you’ve got 49 or 50 markets and we’re going to try and localise all of those,” said Baillie.
“If you think about the scale of people that we’d need on site and the size of the IBC to be able to meet that, it’s just colossal. So, we’re lead down the path of the remote production idea, and the more that people can do at home in their own systems and facilities the better. Plus, in 2020 we’re looking at a completely different landscape for television,” where it will be focusing more on viewer experience, and the events that matter most to people in different countries.
“This will require a cloud-based infrastructure, “which allows us to expand and contract with major events and create unique events for our viewers, so 2020 is a different game for us.”
SVGE advisory board chairman David Shield, IMG Media’ Global Director of Engineering & Technology, asked whether Eurosport will be making more venues available, whether on other channels or online.
“The recent deal we announced with BAMtech around upgrading our online platform is the perfect opportunity to do every minute, every second live in every single market, and that is absolutely the aim: to bring more Olympics than ever before. It’s what we promised the IOC and it’s absolutely what we intend to deliver,” replied Farnsworth.
Carlo De Marchis, Deltatre’s Chief Product and Marketing Officer, asked: The Olympics is “a really diverse environment in terms of discovery of content, so how much of that is reflected in the way you have organised production, compared to, say, four years ago? Is the digital consumption changing production or is it always repurposing what happens for broadcast?”
“All I want to do is make sure I have as much content available in a central place that everyone can get to and use it in the best way that they can to make it relevant and local, and that’s what we plan to do in PyeongChang and to do with Eurosport as a whole,” responded Baillie.
The archive that will be mirrored in Europe from PyeongChang will be available to all of its regions, whether broadcast or digital teams or social media. “I don’t see a difference when I’m building systems. I don’t focus on TV first,” he added. “The strategy for the future is entirely focused on digital,” becoming, perhaps, the Netflix for sport, which is as much about building a direct to consumer relationship as providing content, aiming to give viewers “an experience you’ve never had before.”
“If you look at the commitment Discovery is making to its digital business, with the appointment of BAMtech and also of Ralph Rivera [as Managing Director of Eurosport Digital], who was head of the iPlayer, I think it is a very strong sign of how committed we are to the digital world,” said Farnsworth. “We want to deliver every single piece of content to every device in Europe that we can.”
There was a question from the floor about the use of real-time analytics for the Olympics. Baillie thinks data will be key to many of the experiences Eurosport wants to offer, but doing this for the Olympics will be challenging, “because you have a lot of federations all gathering their own data and all having a say in what they are happy to do with it.
“You’ve got the personal aspects of the athletes, what information they are prepared to share, and we know OBS is looking in to doing something along those lines and we’re very keen to make sure that we are part of that process, because the deal with BAMtech is a snippet of where we see sports going as an experience.” He sees being able to provide contrasting experiences of an event for both the casual viewer and the expert as making a big difference in future.
UHD and beyond
Baillie said he doesn’t particularly care about formats. “The systems that we built take the latest and greatest in experiences,” whether VR, AR, or whatever else is offered, and “we will make the most of the experiences that are available and do the best we can with them.
“Obviously, at Tokyo 2020 you would expect there will be a big focus on 8K, and we will deal with that as and where we can with the relationships that we have in place and the systems that we build over the next four years.”
“We are working very closely with OBS on what their plans are, for 4K, VR, AR,” added Farnsworth.
“The biggest challenge immediately is audio, for us. We’re looking at 16 languages for PyeongChang and 49 plus in Tokyo. Any broadcast manufacturers will tell you that having more than eight or 16 channels of audio is a bit of a challenge,” said Baillie.
“How we make sure that the content that we have spent all this time gathering, all those key moments for those key markets are shared amongst the group, making sure that they are able to find those things and communicate them effectively, and how we manipulate the data that we do have, to provide the best searching for their content — those are the immediate challenges.”
“Giving the localisation that you want to do, 10gig doesn’t sound a great deal. Is that a problem?” asked Tim Felstead, SAM’s Head of Product Marketing.
“No. Because we are being very sensible about how we divide that 10gig up,” replied Farnsworth, but for Tokyo he thinks there will need to be multiple 100gig links.
“Co-ordinating seven production sites across Europe in different languages is going to be culturally a challenge, but you flip that and you say what the Olympic Games does do to us is present us with an ideal opportunity to really raise the professionalism in all of those sites, because what we don’t want to do is just scale up for the Olympics. This is a long-term investment that Eurosport has made.”
In Germany, for example, it will be covering the Bundesliga alongside the Olympics, “so we’ve a huge amount of content that we really need to improve and make sure that the customer experience is spot on, and we need to have the operational professionalism to deliver that, and that in itself is a big challenge.”
“We’re not here to make it worse, we want to make it better,” said Baillie. “We really want to bring something new to our viewers in different countries, something they’ve never seen before. We know we can do that. Here, in the UK, we’ve been lucky with the BBC, because their coverage is quite good, but that’s not the case across Europe. In many of our regions it will be a major revolution.”
“We’ve clearly invested in this for the long term and when we partner with people in the community here, we’re very much focused on long-term partnerships to make our product better, and we’re looking for partners that can scale with us. We’ve got huge ambitions for this business,” concluded Farnsworth.