Olympic Broadcasting Services is the host broadcast organisation set up in 2001 by the IOC to ensure consistency and quality of delivery of the Games to rights-holding broadcasters worldwide. Here Mark Wallace, chief content officer at OBS, answers key questions about the massive Rio 2016 broadcast operation.
What are the main challenges OBS has faced in planning for Rio 2016?
Each Games provides its own set of production challenges and golf and rugby sevens have taken OBS into new territories. Both sports require bold and unique approaches on many levels.
OBS has been working diligently to develop an efficient broadcast plan to deliver live action as it happens and engage audiences around the world – from the core fans to the newcomers who will discover the sport during the Games.
Golf will be one of the most technically and logistically complex broadcast operations. Producing 18-hole coverage essentially comes down to covering 18 separate fields of play, each with their own production plan, microphone set-ups and camera positions, and will involve a huge workforce and logistics. OBS will rely on the expertise of NBC and Sky TV New Zealand to execute its production plan respectively for golf and rugby sevens.
In addition, Rio 2016 also greatly assisted us in addressing an extremely difficult challenge which could have potentially impacted on our production of sailing. It will take place in the most iconic Guanabara Bay, which unfortunately is in the direct flight path of Santos Dumont airport and modern broadcast coverage of the sailing events requires extensive use of aerial cameras.
Fortunately, Rio 2016 managed to coordinate with the Federal and Regional Governments and suspend flights to and from Santos Dumont airport during the competition, allowing our helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to fly over the courses and properly cover the event during the Games.
What is the scale of the operation in terms of manpower and equipment, and how does that compare to previous summer Games?
The summer edition of the Olympic Games is the world’s largest broadcast operation. It is assembled every four years, making use of the latest state-of-the-art technology to relay the most memorable celebration of sport to an estimated global audience of five billion people.
Is Rio 2016 being used to test any new technologies, as was previously the case with 3D?
OBS will use the Rio Games as an accelerated laboratory for exploring some of these new technologies that will shape the future of sports broadcasting, such as Super High Vision SHV (8K), 4K Ultra-HD and Virtual Reality (VR).
As for the London Games, we will be working with Japanese RHB NHK to provide partial coverage of the Rio Games in 8K/down-converted 4K.
Approximately 130 hours of 8K coverage will be produced during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, including live coverage of both ceremonies and daily live sports coverage.
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The sports covered will be athletics, basketball (men’s quarter-finals, women’s and men’s semifinals and finals), football (women’s and men’s medal matches), judo and swimming. In addition to the live coverage, daily highlights will be produced offering a summary of the previous day’s events. The 8K feed will be showcased at the Super-High Vision (SHV) Theatre, at the International Broadcast Centre (IBC), while the public can see it at the Museu do Amanhã at Praça Mauá in Rio.
In addition, the signals will be transmitted to Japan for both test broadcasting purpose and public viewing at various locations in the country. OBS will also provide RHBs with 4K signals, down-converted from the original 8K signals and will include 5.1 Surround Sound.
For the first time in the Olympic Games broadcasting history, viewers from around the world will also be able to enjoy the excitement of the Games in high-definition Virtual Reality (VR), providing a truly unique viewing experience.
— TV Sports Markets (@TVSportsMarkets) July 1, 2016
The plan is for more than 50 hours’ of live coverage, including the Opening Ceremony, beach volleyball, boxing, artistic gymnastics, fencing, athletics, basketball (men’s semi-finals and finals), diving and the Closing Ceremony.
The VR experience will put the user closer to the action than ever before, providing them with the best seats in the house, even if they are thousands of miles away.
We are also producing an advanced multi-platform video player designed to enhance and complement the enjoyment of the Olympic viewing experience.
It offers live and on-demand HD video of all competition sessions, as well as short-form highlights, real-time statistics with enhanced interactivity, key information on the time-bar for instant access to the best moments and simple switching between multiple simultaneous live streams.
It will also feature specific sport enhancements, such as course guide videos for golf, multi-angle clips from key moments in hockey, rugby sevens and football, and maps with GPS location of athletes for cycling road races.
In the past, technical developments in production have meant that broadcasters do not have so many personnel on site. Has this trend continued?
The number of RHB personnel on site is directly linked to the level of unilateral coverage desired by the broadcasters.
We endeavour to make the broadcast operation more sustainable and have introduced new workflows, technologies and services to accommodate broadcasters’ needs without necessarily increasing their on-site resources.
For instance, the expanded use of compression technologies allows RHBS to send back home more simultaneous content in a more efficient manner and without the need of having more people on site. Another example is the Multi-Channel Distribution Service (MDS), which was created to increase the broadcast reach of the Games while reducing the broadcast footprint at the venues and the International Broadcast Centre (IBC). The MDS has become one of the prime ways for the television coverage of the Olympic Games to be distributed to the world edited and ready-to-air channels. There will be 52 takers in Rio, broadcasting the Games to 198 territories.
What are the particular pressures experienced by directors of Olympic coverage compared to that of other major events?
The pressures of broadcasting the Olympic Games to billions of people globally comes from the exceedingly high and exacting expectations of our clients, the rights-holding broadcasters, and their viewers around the world.
However, OBS has brought together some of the most experienced and skilled television directors and producers to execute the multilateral coverage plan for each of the 28 Olympic sports, each selected for their expertise within their associated sports/events.
We are confident in the professionalism and quality of our experienced teams, many of whom see this pressure as a privilege.
How mindful are you of the way that consumption of Olympic media is migrating across different platforms and how does it impact on OBS’ role and output?
Sochi 2014 represented a turning point and a giant step forward for digital content as, for the first time in Olympic history, the amount of digital coverage exceeded traditional television broadcasts, with 60,000 hours available on digital platforms, compared with 42,000 hours on television. What we could see in Sochi was that audiences were changing habits and increasingly consuming Olympic content on digital platforms, and that our broadcasters were embracing new platforms and technologies to respond to this demand.
OBS expects this trend to skyrocket and Rio promises to be the largest digital event in history. OBS provides RHBs with an innovative multiscreen content delivery solution which enables them to satisfy today’s consumer demand for viewing flexibility.
The Olympic Video Player (OVP) offers RHBs their own fully-produced internet/mobile platform containing one of the best live video and on-demand players currently available. Launched for Sochi 2014, 95 different countries utilised the service. Monitoring of audience reaction also demonstrated that the OVP not only expanded viewer hours and reach for the RHBs using the platform – but also played a part in the significant increase of digital coverage.
WALLACE OUTLINES HIS COMPANY’S INNOVATIONS FOR RIO 2016:
We plan to utilise a number of innovative camera systems to capture unique angles of particular sports and create even more compelling content from the Olympic Games.
The following is a brief highlight of some of these systems:
- Four-point cable cameras used for the first time at athletics, swimming, synchronised swimming, volleyball, hockey (finals) and cycling track.
- Two-point cable cameras at beach volleyball, golf, basketball and cycling BMX, Olympic Park.
- Lightweight mini tracking cameras at beach volleyball, taekwondo and weightlifting.
- Mini High Motion (HSSM) cameras used for the first time at athletics field events, table tennis, badminton, cycling BMX, equestrian dressage, jumping and cross country, volleyball, artistic gymnastics vault and rhythmic gymnastics.
- Drones will be used for the first time for live coverage at rowing and canoe sprint, together with prerecorded content from other sports venues, including golf, the football venues, cycling BMX and canoe slalom, as well as scenic shots of Rio.
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