Olympic Channel’s Mark Parkman: Production challenges and content plans
The Olympic Channel is a little more than three months into its true existence but the efforts to get into launch mode, and now into growth mode, began well before it fired up its offering following the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics on August 21. The digital-first, multiplatform service is designed to give Olympic sports more exposure, fill the gap of Olympic sports fans between the games, and, most importantly, ensure that younger sports fans are engaged with Olympic sports both as a participant and a fan. Mark Parkman, general manager of the Olympic Channel, recently sat down with SVG Co-Executive Director Ken Kerschbaumer to discuss the launch of the channel, what it means to the Olympic movement, and what It means to the industry at large. This is Part Two of that conversation.
SVG Europe: So let’s discuss some of the basics. How big is the team or will the team be here personnel wise? How do you see it kind of growing?
Parkman: We’re almost full. Between our offices in Lausanne and Madrid we have about 100 people today. The technical and operations and production content is created here in Madrid while the sales and distribution is in Lausanne. I would say that 75% of the team is on the technical and content side, and the other 25% is on the revenue distribution and marketing side.
SVG Europe: So is most of the technical side doing a lot of editing and social media activity or are they producing content in the field?
Parkman: It’s all of the above. Of the 35 live events that have in 2016 there have been about 15 that we have sent crews to. In most cases, we send someone from our team here supplemented by a local ENG crew, producer, cameraman, et cetera. For example, when we covered the FIBA 3×3 World Championship in China we sent one of our social media community managers, who is Chinese. So we sent her and then hired four or five people through our contacts in China to produce news, highlights and other content on-site.
SVG Europe: In that instance was FIBA responsible for the actual event coverage?
Parkman: Yes. For all the 35 events, we’re taking the host broadcast feed from the federation. We’re not doing host broadcasting.
SVG Europe: I guess OBS already does enough of that, right?
Parkman: Yes. The guys upstairs have that covered. But you know we also told the federations that, look, if you wanted us to do that then either we could help you with consulting on a production plan that you could then put into an RFP to a production company or we could provide some host broadcasting services. But it’s not our core function or offering to the federations.
SVG Europe: I have spoken with a couple of production experts and they say that one of the challenges facing federations is that they are trying to build a brand but they end up hiring production service providers who don’t invest enough in making the production look first class. And then the federation can never be perceived as first class and the sport’s popularity suffers.
Parkman: That’s one of the tricky things. It’s something that we’ve had to address and is one of the things we talk about with the federations in advance. What’s the production going to be like, how many cameras, what resources do you have, what’s the transmission, etc. Because even though we are a digital platform we do have the five rings on our logo and the five rings represent excellence.
SVG Europe: It’s a good housekeeping seal of approval.
Parkman: Exactly. So we need to be careful to ensure that the content that we are streaming has the right production values. It doesn’t have to be Olympic or
World Cup level but it needs to be, in most cases, more than one camera, have graphics, and have commentary.
SVG Europe: Do you see some of the social media worthy videos as the kind of stuff that can resonate and become buzzworthy content?
Parkman: Yes. It’s a combination of keeping the Olympic Movement and sports alive between the Games. Doing that through social media, through something that would take fire, like the basketball trick shot video or another piece where there was a Korean Taekwondo athlete playing soccer – which has gotten more than 3 million views. It’s taking that Olympic connotation and pushing it across the social landscape.
We’re also investing a lot of our content budget in premium content. We’re going out and finding production companies from around the world to produce both short-form, medium-form, and long form-content that not only lives on the platform but can also be used on certain social platforms in addition to being consumed via VOD and via the linear platforms that we will have coming next year.
SVG Europe: But social media is the first step.
Parkman: Yeah, we want to hook people in through the distribution of content via social to get them on our platform, and have them explore and find more. And it is also not just a video platform that we’re trying to create. The Olympic channel is an evolutionary platform. As we progress in the weeks and months and years ahead, what you see today will transform to include more interactivity, more engagement, and trying to get people to build communities.. And by end of the first quarter next year our platform will be in nine different languages. For example, if you download the app in China, you’ll get a Mandarin version. This is one of the big initiatives that we are pushing out now.
SVG Europe: Will the federations help in that?
Parkman: That’s part of the idea both with the federations but also with the National Olympic Committees. Our key stakeholders are athletes, federations, National Olympic Committees, broadcasters, and sponsors, and through this Olympic family ecosystem we want to engage them with the platform in efforts to grow the whole Olympic Movement.
SVG Europe: It seems like the amount of content you possible could have, especially with things like qualifying events, could be overwhelming.
Parkman: That was one of the first things that we investigated when we were doing our feasibility study. We looked into how many National Organizing Committees have qualifiers. And most of them just do it through a ranking system where you qualify based upon your seasonal results. So, if you’re Danish and compete on the Badminton World Cup circuit, the Danish badminton team is going to calculate those results to figure out who gets to go to the Olympics.
We also want to try to become a one stop shop for a fan of a sport. If you like archery come to the channel, find archery content, find archery results, find archery news, find info on archery athletes, bios, find an archery coach, a team, a community, train like an archer, listen to your favorite archer’s music playlist. All of this is in the evolution of what we’re trying to achieve.
SVG Europe: The millennials are important, but how do you also appeal to younger kids?
Parkman: I have three boys who I refer to as the Parkman Focus Group and they’re 14, 12, and 11. And the Cartoon Network and the Rio Organizing Committee created about 30 two-minute cartoons featuring the Rio Games mascots Vinicius and Tom. The rights have reverted to us and those are now on our channel. Well, my two youngest boys watched all of them and those videos are also geared for someone as young as four or eight years old.
So, if we can go younger and reach the eight- or 10-year old when they’re becoming more interested in sports and perhaps more competent in a sport, well, that’s when they decide whether they want to be good at something or just do it for fun. And if they want to get better come to the channel and get training tips. And, one of the things we’re talking about is on the medical front as there’s a huge opportunity for us to show how to prevent injuries, how to come back from injuries, and also to motivate. If you’re a 15-year old and you’re playing soccer and you’ve torn your Achilles and you’re going to miss the whole season it could mean a lot to have an Olympic soccer player who had a similar injury who can say hey, this is what it takes, this is what I did, and look, I’m back and I’m fine.
SVG Europe: And clearly there are other type of stories as all the athletes have inspiring stories.
Parkman: We’re developing a series called One, which is about countries who have one medal in their history and on that one medallist and what impact they’ve had on the country. It’s like the girl from Kosovo this year [at Rio 2016] who is now a national hero. We want to help grow the profiles of all the athletes and give them an outlet where they can promote themselves so that people know who these athletes are. And if we can do that for the three years prior to the Games to show their success and tell their stories, and then during the Games themselves the story somewhat becomes the final episode of the reality show. People may be prompted to think, okay I remember this guy because I saw a feature on what they were doing. And this could drive more viewers to our broadcast partners during the Games so then it’s a bit of a win – win.
SVG Europe: So can you discuss the technical facilities you have here in Madrid?
Parkman: We have two control room downstairs and then a small one upstairs as well as 12 craft editing rooms, about 10 voice over rooms and we have a studio. So, the technical facilities are equipped quite well for digital platforms and linear emanations if we have to do linear emanations from here. The linear emanations would be in partnership with our rights holding broadcasters that could be based here or with the broadcaster. So technically we’re well situated, we’re well equipped, and we’ve got state of the art facilities. We’re quite happy with where we are.
SVG Europe: And then you have access to 40,000 hours or Olympic competition archives.
Parkman: Yes, we have all 40,000 hours of the Olympic archive. It’s now in its second location, which is good. The main one is in Lausanne, but we have a backup here. We can pull whatever we need through the system to create the content we want, and we also want to able to offer it to federations and organising committees. If you ask a lot of the federations about their archives and some smile and say it’s in the basement in a box and we don’t know what to do with it. So, we’ve gone to them and said we can help manage your archive at cost to help preserve what you have. And there has been a lot of interest in this.