SportTech UK: Producing the Digital Olympics

If Beijing was the HD Olympics, then the consensus is that London 2012 will be the Digital Olympics, as the sheer number of tablets and smart phones that have become ubiquitous in the four years since take viewership of the Games more mobile than ever before. And along the way, minority sports, and even non-rights holders, look set to benefit.

“We’ve put out 77 different iterations so far, but the best is yet to come. Hopefully on the 27th of April we launch the GamesTime version of the site,” said Alex Balfour, Head of New Media, London 2012.

This is the site build that will move from a preview site to a fully fledged and featured one ready to handle the 1.5bn site visits expected once the Games start at the end of July

“We have a lot of stuff on there which is really important in helping make the games as rich an experience as possible, both in the UK and beyond,” he said. “People will gravitate to the biggest screen possible to watch an event, but they will also be using a mobile at the same time to check and cross reference and deep dive, or use Twitter, or update Facebook… The second screen is going to be huge.”

For a rights holder like the BBC, while the main focus will always be on its flagship broadcast channels, the digital landscape is an important one to chart. “Increasingly it’s about mobile, tablet, and the fourth screen for us is Connected TV and thinking about how you can genuinely make strides in the IPTV world,” commented Ben Gallop, Head of Interactive and F1, BBC Sport. “And there are things we want to do this summer which will show the audience the possibility of what that technology can do. The red button has been there for over 10 years now, and it’s a really popular service, and we’ll have up to six different steams on the red button. So, every time there’s an archer in action at Lord’s that will be available.

Lord’s is, of course, an Olympic venue for the archery this year. So it was very appropriate that Tom Dielen, Secretary General, World Archery was on the panel to talk about how digital broadcast is changing the shape of his sport.

“For a sport like archery it’s challenging and we have to be realistic,” he said. “The TV market is 80% football, and the rest is for everyone else. You can fight for it or you can find other ways of being seen.”

Archery’s way of doing that has been to be among the first sporting federations to start a YouTube channel, with a Tudou site also launched to tap into the Chinese market within the past six months. And a hoped for 50k visitors a day to its website over the Olympic period seems to have provided a bit of leverage with OBS in ramping up its coverage.

“We tested certain things for them that they couldn’t do on the Olympic productions and we continue working with OBS on angles and how we show our sport,” said Dielen. “We’re talking about 7 or 9 cameras – not huge productions – but we will have a jimmy jib, we have a track camera, and we’re making progress.”

One of Dielen’s most interesting comments lay in the admission that, as a federation, of course it doesn’t have any rights to Olympic video images, so it’s going to have to find other ways of entertaining the visitors to its website.

This all fed into a discussion on data visualisation, as exemplified by the comments of Dan Gilbert, Product Development Manager, Olympics 2012, Press Association. “We have a very large global company that is particularly interested in taking data files from us. They’re a non-rights holder, but live data means that they can create a visual narrative on their website and we have numerous customers like that that need a way of showing the games without using video,” he said.

Whether this amounts to a loophole in the increasingly complex rights topography is a discussion for a future time (though the prospect of using Olympic data to drive a realtime recreation of the 100m final starring, say, The Queen and Darth Vader is an interesting one). What did concern people though is the prospect of the Olympics effectively hogging so much bandwidth that web speeds slow to a crawl round the country.

“No one wants to be responsible for breaking the internet,” said a heartfelt Gallop. “An internet stream is more complicated and fragile than broadcast streams, but we have gained experience of managing the traffic over the years. We work closely with ISPs and content distribution networks to make sure we can manage our traffic flow, and we use an adaptive bitrate so we can tune up or tune down demand on our servers. Back at the 2010 World Cup, the biggest peak for video traffic for us was when England played Slovenia on a weekday in the late afternoon, and we had 800000 streams of our content going out, It was unprecedented for us, it was huge, but we were able to cope with it, and we think we can cope with this.”


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