Yiannis Exarchos, the CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), has told IBC Digital that producing the host coverage for this year’s Tokyo Games was “the most challenging but also most rewarding” operation in the organisation’s history.
Exarchos said that OBS, which delivers live coverage of all Olympic and Paralympic competitions and ceremonies to rights holding broadcasters around the world, produced 10,400 hours of content in the two weeks of the Tokyo Olympics.
OBS published 12-13 times more content from the Tokyo Olympics than it did from the Athens 2004 Olympics to meet rising demand from digital platforms, according to Exarchos.
All this was done against the backdrop of the pandemic – and helped by the rapid take up of cloud and virtual production techniques.
Ahead of the Games, OBS had develop cloud-based platform OBS Cloud with tech partner Alibaba to distribute content to broadcasters around the world, meaning that they did not need to send large teams to Tokyo.
Watch the full interview on IBC Digital
Exarchos said that in the period between the postponement of the Games in 2020 and the event taking place in 2021, “the number of bookings of services based on cloud by our broadcasters were multiplied by a factor of seven.”
Before the pandemic, Exarchos said that OBS thought that “massive cloud adoption” by broadcasters would happen somewhere between the Paris 2024 Olympics and the Los Angles 2028 Olympics. “It’s clear that we are there now, because of the pandemic. We were there even in Tokyo.”
“For us, the use of technology is not about showcasing technology, but about helping us to tell the stories of these incredible human beings, the best athletes in the world.”
This cloud adoption in turn allowed broadcasters to bring 39% less staff to Tokyo compared to the number they brought to the Rio 2020 Olympics, “even though they had to handle, and they posted almost 35% more content across more platforms.”
Moving to the cloud also allowed OBS “to be efficient, to be able to do many more things with less infrastructure and less hardware, and also to be far more sustainable,” said Exarchos.
He pointed out that the cloud allowed OBS to use 25% less space at the Games’ International Broadcast Centre (IBC), and 25% less space in sports venues even though it was covering five additional sports and it was producing much more content. “That was a direct result of this innovation. That was huge savings for the Organising Committee - less spaces, less logistics, and so on.”
Looking ahead to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, Exarchos said that OBS will trial a more radical “de-materialisation of production.”
“We have a pilot project in Beijing that is going well so far to try and do a coverage with a virtual outside broadcast van - without actually using a broadcast van but replicating more of its functions on the cloud. It’s easier said than done. If this goes well, this may change a lot of things in the way sports coverage and sports production in general is done. We may start not being so dependent on moving trucks around the world [when] we need to be consuming less carbon.”
Elsewhere in his IBC Digital interview, Exarchos reflected on the technology innovations that OBS had introduced in Tokyo. “We love technology, and we love using new things and innovating,” he said.
However, Exarchos added that OBS was guided by certain principles in how it uses technology: “For us, the use of technology is not about showcasing technology, but about helping us to tell the stories of these incredible human beings, the best athletes in the world.”
Exarchos noted that Tokyo was a “milestone” Games for being the first to be covered natively in 4K HDR.
Additionally, Exarchos said that Tokyo was also the first Games to be produced using full immersive audio, moving from 5.1 to 5.1.4 sound. “It was not just that we did surround sound, but we did a version of sound that completely envelops the listener and the viewer.”
Exarchos said this helped to compensate for the lack of spectators in the venues. “It allowed us to do a more aggressive mix of our audio. And this created a more emotional and immersive sense when you when you follow the images. Because of audio, which is more emotional than image, people started forgetting that the venues were actually empty.”
He cited other tech innovations used at Tokyo Games too, including 3D replays, biometric data such as measuring the heart beats of archers in the archery competitions, 5G (especially in the ceremonies) and virtual reality.
In particular, he said one of the innovations introduced at Tokyo to compensate for the lack of spectators would likely continue in future Games coverage. This was the sourcing reactions, cheers, and digital interactions with athletes’ friends and families who were unable to attend.
“We sourced reactions / cheers from people from 205 nations around the world, cheering for all 205 participating national Olympic Committees in the Games. We had a total of 250 cheers / reactions during the game. We had 1000s and 1000s of people who were sending us their cheering videos, and we were sending them in the venues.”
Exarchos added: “The connection of the athletes with their friends and families - I believe that this is here to stay. We started it in order to try to address the issue of the absence of spectators. But athletes loved it. Fans loved it because it gave them a sense of participation. Broadcasters loved it. It added a lot of colour in the coverage. And they all insist we will do it in Beijing where there will be spectators. I think it’s one of the innovations which is here to stay and to be further developed.”
For the upcoming Beijing Winter Games, Exarchos said that OBS will “maximise the use of 5G cameras.”
“In Beijing, we have the benefit of a very, very comprehensive 5G infrastructure…China is one of the most advanced countries in terms of 5G technology. 5G is a liberating technology for a lot of things in broadcast, especially in difficult areas like outside venues.
“So, we will maximise the use of 5G cameras. We will go to places, especially in outside sports, where it would have been difficult to go with cable cameras or even with traditional RF equipment.”