IOC plans wearable cams and multi-screen overload for Rio

© 2010 Vancouver Comité International Olympique CIO Kishimoto

© 2010 Vancouver Comité International Olympique CIO Kishimoto; Homepage image: ©-2012-Londres-Comité-International-Olympique-CIO-copy

POV wearable cameras and data sensors on athletes and equipment and the richest multi-screen experience ever seen are just some of the innovations planned for the 2016 Rio Games, according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The initiatives are being driven by a need to keep pace with an increasingly connected audience, and to maintain relevance to the younger generation of digital natives.

Speaking at the headquarters of the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, Olympic chiefs outlined a media strategy that places online video front and centre. “Rio will be the first real multi-screen games,” declared Yiannis Exarchos, CEO, Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS). “We will be providing comprehensive coverage to broadcasters as ever but we will provide them additional material which can be used as a second screen experience. Data, different angles, super slo-mo sets and more. We will try to bring broadcasters into the digital age with many different applications.”

The IOC has a history of innovating broadcast technology for successive games, raising the bar on colour broadcasting in 1948, for example, and making the first all HD games in Beijing 2008. While OBS will experiment with 8K coverage in tandem with NHK in Rio, innovation in new hardware is no longer its main focus.

“Our focus is not so much on development of camera hardware, though we are doing that, but how to find the best way to make sports relevant to the younger audience and to connect with their media consumption habits,” he said.

Multi-screen momentum

This momentum began in Athens 2004, which was the first Games to be streamed online, but kicked-off spectacularly at Sochi 2014 when digital coverage (60,000 hours) exceeded linear TV coverage (40,000 hours) for the first time. Coverage was ramped up in places like sub-saharan Africa and the Caribbean. Russian broadcasters output 11,700 hours of coverage around Sochi; China scored 40% more domestic viewership than for the Vancouver games.

OBS attributes all of this to its introduction in Sochi of the Olympic Video Platform (OVP), a white label platform customisable by rights’ holders, which was used by 95 countries/territories consuming two million hours of video.

“This is the heart of future innovation for broadcasting,” heralded Exarchos. “In Rio it will be huge. Sochi showed that the consumption of an Olympic games on mobile and tablets in many parts of the world is now as intense as that of traditional TV. Digital is no longer marginal. It is what is happening now.”

Up-close with wearables

OBS experimented with mounting small cameras on athletes at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games and plans to expand this project considerably at Rio.

“Wearable cameras are coming,” said Exarchos. “It has to be done carefully to not impact on the competition and the athletes have to be comfortable – so they may need to use it before the Olympics in other sporting competitions. It is hard to cut the footage into live linear coverage but it could be used for replays or additional digital products. If there’s a lot of interest we will do that.”

GoPro-style units could be fitted to boats for sailing competitions at Rio, he said. “We will try and do it in cycling if they allow us to put it on bikes, and with some referees in basketball for example, where they don’t impede the competitors.”

Quizzing Exarchos was Jonathan Edwards, 2000 Olympic triple jump champion and broadcaster, who was skeptical that some athletes may not agree to wearable tech and that consensus would be needed among them.

“We must be very careful not to compromise the athlete’s performance,” agreed Exarchos.

OBS is further looking to bulk up its coverage of athlete’s preparations before the Games and to go backstage into locker rooms during the event for a more intimate perspective.

“We are thinking of covering athletes with wearable or fixed small POV camera at their training camps to tell the story of what it takes to get to the Games from a more personal view,” said Exarchos.

However, he conceded that some shots from wearable cams may be no better at achieving the desired emotional closeness with an athlete than cameras it already has in position at host stadia.

Olympic channel and new sports storytelling

Another plank of the IOC’s digital strategy is to debut a dedicated Olympic channel ahead of the 2016 Games. This will be a worldwide digital channel with select countries carrying it as part of the linear TV schedule. Programming will mostly comprise archive material. The IOC has spent the last seven years digitising an archive of 33,500 hours of video including unedited broadcast rushes, 400,000 stills, and over 8000 audio recordings, as well as restoring 40 official Olympic films.

“We are designing it as a smart platform that enables people to share knowledge, emotions and connections with others,” explained Exarchos.

“Broadcasters traditionally have been very keen to control what is being produced and for people to follow next the story they want to tell. Today everybody is a storyteller. Everybody has capacity to produce audio visual content. This, I believe, is the most important challenge for broadcast storytelling in years to come. How can you integrate a more democratic storytelling into coverage of a sport event?”

While live sports viewing can be curated by individuals from multiple angles on personal devices, the water-cooler moments of live action still resonate around the world. Exarchos doesn’t profess to know how the right way to marry the two but believes it essential.

“People do want to share a moment, to feel the presence of others and to have a narrator,” he said. “That is a fundamental psychological need. I don’t believe that with all the infinite choices that are offered there is not a need for a narrator. The question for me is how can we integrate this traditional narrative with commentary that comes from people watching. How can we make this narrative experience a more shareable experience?”

The event in Lausanne was to present a new exhibition explores the history of broadcasting the Games at the The Olympic Museum. The exhibition ranges from the key contributions of figures such as German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, which changed the way the Games were filmed, to a look to the future of broadcasting. This explains how the emotions generated by the Games might be seen on social media and demonstrations of how sports looked when filmed in 360-degrees.

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