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Off the mark | The Olympic Channel

  • Olympic channel has expanded its coverage plans for 2017 following a positive start
  • 441 million video views were recorded in 2016 following the channel’s launch in August
  • Localisation is a target for 2017, with 10 additional languages set to be added soon

The Olympic Channel was established last year to bridge the chasm between the quadrennial Games and provide a consistency of coverage that has traditionally disappeared once the Olympic flame has been extinguished in the host city.

Just six months after the launch of the channel, following the conclusion of the Rio 2016 summer Olympics, forecasting the future trajectory of the project with any degree of certainty requires numerous assumptions.

According to the channel’s general manager, Mark Parkman, focusing on the short-term audience figures for an embryonic initiative is not an accurate litmus test – for the time being at least.

“The International Olympic Committee has made clear the ultimate objectives for the Olympic Channel, so our measurement will be based in the long term on achieving those objectives, rather than giving short-term audience objectives,” he tells SportBusiness International.

“In addition, as an OTT platform, the Olympic Channel is not a traditional linear channel, thus it is not rated. We will use data from our users and other statistical measurements to help inform and support our structure as we continue to develop and grow the platform.”

However, if other metrics are considered at this stage of the channel’s development, a progress report provides a promising outlook.

VIDEO: One of the Olympic Channel’s short sports snippets, focusing on swimming

Outlook

In 2016 the channel amassed 2.174 million followers across its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram handles, accounting for approximately 10 per cent of all IOC social media followers on the same platforms, to drive more than 441 million video views and 1.86 billion impressions.

“We’re not a traditional TV channel,” Parkman says. “We’re a platform that is across as many devices and means of distribution that we can be, which includes our website, apps, social media and linear – which are coming.

“Digital platforms and channels are exploding, and then you have social media where our core demographic is consuming most of their content. In today’s world, we have to go to where they are. So, the Olympic Channel is a multi-platform ecosystem, and we’re aiming to get as much of our brand and content out there to viewers wherever they may be.”

From an administrative perspective, Parkman is satisfied with how the structure of the venture has developed since it was conceived as ‘recommendation 19’ of IOC president Thomas Bach’s Agenda 2020 roadmap for the Olympic Movement, “to provide a platform for sports and athletes beyond the Olympic Games period, 365 days a year… (and) to fully connect with the digital age and connect with young people on their terms.”

The channel was one of the first sports properties to use 360 video through its native player towards the end of 2016, while the core features of the digital product were built in the eight months immediately prior to the launch on August 21. Almost 2,000 pieces of content were created for the launch and the channel now has more than 5,000 available through the platform.

“We went from Executive Board approval in December 2014 to a fully-operational media entity in less than two years,” Parkman says. “We built a team of 100 representing 28 nationalities and moved into a new, fully-functioning facility and created a global digital media platform along with its content.

“One of our concerns was if we could create enough content in such a short amount of time to make it a viable content proposition. And that I think we achieved this, including the groundwork with all the IFs to get them to come to agreements on events that we could stream live.”

VIDEO: One of the Olympic Channel’s ‘Epic Olympic Moments,’ showcasing archived footage – in this case, Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 score

Relationships

At its launch, it was anticipated that the channel would show live coverage of 37 events across 10 different sports before the end of 2016. However, the initial trickle of content partnerships became a stream, leading to 55 events and 201 live transmissions being shown on the channel by the turn of the year.

Having established to date relationships with 40 international federations – not all of whom are on the Games programme – the channel has expanded its horizons for 2017, with 198 events and nearly 500 live broadcasts scheduled.

By the second quarter of this year, the channel will also be available in 10 additional languages – Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, as well as English.

“Some of our key priorities for 2017 are for languages and localisation as we continue to extend our reach to tell the stories of our athletes and sports outside of Games-time,” Parkman adds.

“Our platform was initially offered in English, so naturally we are seeing large audiences from English-speaking countries and this was to be expected. We are also seeing a lot of consumption from European countries, countries with host Olympic cities, including Brazil and Japan, and emerging countries such as Egypt, India and the Philippines. With additional languages now available, we expect to grow our audiences in more countries worldwide.

“We are also currently working with our broadcast partners and National Olympic Committees to develop ‘localised’ versions of the Olympic Channel which will offer region- and language-specific user experiences on linear and digital platforms in certain territories, ultimately leading to more personalised experiences.”

Fifty-two per cent of those engaging with the main channel platform are below the age of 35. The figure rises to 94 per cent when it comes to engaging with the channel on Facebook. With that in mind, the channel is being developed as a social experience – one of four key pillars of the venture’s content strategy, alongside live events, news and original programming.

“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 around their favourite athletes, sports and activities,” Parkman says, with an eye on the next major milestone on the IOC’s events calendar – the 2018 winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

“We are adding up to 25 pieces of content daily and we are happy with this pace,” he adds. “We have made great efforts to ensure that all sports and disciplines are represented and have stories on hundreds of athletes from 206 countries.

“We would like to add more live events and, over the next 12 months, what we want to do is to begin telling the narrative of Pyeongchang 2018, so that throughout the lead-up to the Games, more people will become familiar with the athletes and their stories.”

VIDEO: The Olympic Channel counts down to Pyeongchang

Collaboration

Parkman acknowledges that collaboration is key to driving the growth of the channel.

“We’re spending a lot of time on relationships, because the federations are the ones who have the rights to all their events on an annual basis,” Parkman says. “But each one is different because some may have worldwide distribution of their content, some have regional distribution, some have rights in specific countries, and some may have their own platform that they do on a global scale, but don’t have partnerships with traditional media entities.

“So, it’s important for us to work together closely to see how we can fill in the gaps. What we are offering them is an ancillary platform to distribute their content, be it live events, news, highlights, social media, or content that the channel generates.”

In December, the channel struck its most important strategic partnership to date. Under the deal with media company NBCUniversal and the US Olympic Committee, a new linear cable-television channel will be launched in the US in the middle of 2017.

The platform, ‘Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA’, will complement the broader Olympic Channel, providing additional coverage of Olympic sports programmes that will appear exclusively on other NBCU platforms – including NBC, NBCSN and the network’s digital assets.
In May 2014, NBCU extended its exclusive US media-rights deal for the Olympic Games through to 2032, with the 11-year deal set to be worth a total of about $7.75bn (€7.24bn).

“With the partnership with NBCUniversal and the USOC, we are expanding the reach of the global platform to television, which started with branded programming hours at the end of 2016,” Parkman adds.

“In addition to direct distribution through our own platforms, we are working with our stakeholders on content distribution solutions. For example, United World Wrestling has just announced that every match from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is available on its website. This has been made possible through the Olympic Channel video player.

“We’ve also had other events approach us that are related to Olympic sports. For example, the Sydney Marathon cold called us and asked: ‘Hey, would you guys be interested in putting the Sydney Marathon on your platform?’ We’ve also worked with some of the federations on future Olympic programmes; surfing, for example, which gave us their World Junior Championships last fall.”

VIDEO: The Olympic Channel recaps Michael Phelps’ Rio 2016 Games

Commercial

Whilst there are clear benefits for participating federations who may struggle to secure any sort of exposure on multi-sport international broadcast platforms outside Games-time, there are also opportunities for the IOC’s commercial partners.

In the short term, the channel is offering up to six founding partner packages exclusively to worldwide TOP partners. The founding partner programme provides a range of exclusive rights and assets, including advertising, branded content opportunities and other production collaborations on the channel.

In the weeks ahead of its launch in August, the channel unveiled two worldwide TOP partners – Bridgestone and Toyota – as founding partners. In January, Alibaba was announced as a new IOC TOP partner, as well as an Olympic Channel founding partner.

“Ultimately, the IOC’s integrated revenue model provides an opportunity for investment in our brand whereby the Olympic Channel will strengthen and bring incremental value to commercial partners such as TOP sponsors and rights-holding broadcasters,” Parkman says.

The IOC views the channel as a vital tool to increase the awareness of the Olympic Movement brand, as well as its constituent sports. Although it is early days, it appears that IOC partners and international federations seem to be coming around to the same idea.

EXTRA: World Archery (channel partner since August 2016)

World Archery was one of the first federations to sign an agreement with the Olympic Channel and is using the global platform to maximise exposure worldwide.

“While the Olympic Channel is still in its early days, it offers widespread potential for exposure for the sport, which is our primary objective in broadcast distribution,” World Archery secretary general Tom Dielen tells SportBusiness International. “We’re interested to see how this extra audience might convert along the path towards archery fandom, or participation in the long-term. To date, the commercial impact for archery has been neutral, but the value has been positive in exposure.

“World Archery has provided the channel with access to live content from the Hyundai Archery World Cup, among other events. We have worked with the channel to support a number of pieces of commissioned content, as well as sharing archive footage. Our online platforms, including YouTube and Facebook, are the destination for archery fans looking to follow World Archery’s international events. The audience on the Olympic Channel is not a replacement for this, but a complement as the sport looks to attract a wider, more casual following.

“We’re excited to see how we can work with the channel to access new audiences with footage of our sport more effectively and start to convert them along the path into World Archery fans.”

EXTRA: International Federation of Sport Climbing (channel partner since October 2016)

The IFSC’s partnership with the channel marks what it hopes will be a game-changing period for the federation, whose sport has been added to the programme for the 2020 summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, as well as the 2018 summer Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.

“We started our collaboration with the Olympic Channel since its creation and we reached a cooperation agreement in October,” IFSC sport manager Jérôme Meyer tells SportBusiness International. “Currently the IFSC is actively working with the Olympic Channel. The Olympic Channel has produced videos of our events, highlights of athletes and more, and additional productions are in the works. An example is the IFSC Climbing and Paraclimbing World Championships.

“The Olympic Channel brings Sport Climbing videos to a brand-new audience that may otherwise not have been exposed to the sport. We believe fans enjoy watching sports on different platforms and from various angles. It is a bit too early to know about knock-on commercial impact, but we are optimistic. The Olympic Channel is now part of the Olympic world and has done a great job of showcasing Olympic sports. We are excited that sport climbing is represented on the platform, and it is an adventure we are pleased to live together.”

IFSC president Marco Scolaris adds: “We want to continue to strengthen our collaboration with the Olympic Channel, so that our sport and our athletes have the exposure they deserve, before and during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. So far, we have been impressed by the professionalism of the people working for the Olympic Channel, but also by their openness and motivation.”

EXTRA: World Bowling (channel partner since November 2016)

For World Bowling, linking up with the channel will provide casual viewers with a fresh perspective of the sport.

“We signed the contract with the Olympic Channel in November and we marked the occasion by sharing our magazine show from December’s World Championships,” World Bowling chief executive Kevin Dornberger tells SportBusiness International. “We are currently working on pieces to occupy our sports page on the Olympic Channel. “We will look to share any content that we believe would be interesting and suitable to the Olympic Channel’s audience. Our target is to expand our existing fan base to other sports fans, so anything that appeals to this market. Any content that we have produced ourselves for our viewers will be considered if the rights have not been awarded elsewhere.

“We want to expand our existing fan base to new audiences and the Olympic Channel provides the perfect platform and the perfect target audience to do this. Bowling is a very accessible past time, but many people haven’t seen the professional and technical side of the sport, which can be quite grueling for the athletes. We hope to broaden this education to the sport’s world.

“We have just begun our collaboration and are excited for the opportunities that lie ahead. Hopefully we will increase our existing fan base and further encourage our partner’s enthusiasm for providing coverage to events.”

EXTRA: World Flying Disc Federation (channel partner since December 2016)

Having only entered into a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the Olympic Channel in December, the WFDF is in discussions with representatives of Olympic Channel Services, the corporate entity responsible for operating the venture.

“The federation will push all kind of events footage and archived content to the Olympic Channel,” WFDF president Robert Raunch tells SportBusiness International. “This includes footage from all flying disc sports, including Ultimate, Beach Ultimate, Disc Golf, Guts, Freestyle and Overall events. The concept is to complement our current media distribution wherever possible, working with our current relationships across various countries. So, we hope to feature all events on the channel, such as the upcoming WFDF World Championships of Beach Ultimate taking place in the week beginning June 18, 2017, in Royan, France, where we will have 2,000 athletes from 40 countries competing.

“The cooperation with Olympic Channel Services greatly complements our communications strategy as we continue to develop our audience outside of our traditional event viewership. As a rapidly-growing sport with tremendous youth appeal, a strong grounding in Olympic ideals and gender equality, we believe that flying disc can also be an asset in the portfolio of the Olympic Channel by reaching today’s sports audience looking for offerings that speak to their lifestyle. We are hopeful that having the opportunity to showcase our major events on the Olympic Channel will also raise the profile of flying disc sports in the international sports community and the Olympic Movement.

“WFDF is producing the coverage for the Olympic Channel in the normal course of its coverage of events otherwise produced for video streaming through other media or telecasts. We aim to achieve an in-depth co-operation with the Olympic Channel by also using the platform for archive purposes and promotional actions throughout the year away from events, using video-clip features as a tool to promote flying disc athletes.”

EXTRA: World Baseball Softball Confederation (channel partner since October 2016)

The World Baseball Softball Confederation is keen to build momentum ahead of the return of baseball and softball to the Olympic programme in Tokyo in three years’ time.

“The basic premise of this exciting collaboration with the Olympic Channel is cross-promotion and supporting the Olympic Movement, starting with this year’s 2017 international baseball/softball calendar,” WBSC’s global head of communications, Oscar Lopez, tells SportBusiness International. “Through this cooperation, WBSC aims to expand our sport’s reach to the Olympic Channel’s vast audience while driving a worldwide baseball/softball fan base to the Olympic Channel’s 24-seven, year-round platforms.

“Together with the Olympic Channel, we are identifying upcoming youth Baseball World Cup/Softball World Championships to feature on the channel, with potential live streams and highlights, as well as developing original programming projects together. From our previous collaborations with our broadcast partners across the digital space, we fully expect a high-level of cooperation and great opportunity in this regard. With the Olympic Channel connecting to new audiences and demographics, we are confident that the channel will be of great added value to all involved stakeholders.

“We award the host broadcasting rights for our events, so that’s how the coverage is produced. The technical details are something we are currently studying with the Olympic Channel head office in order to streamline efficiencies, and optimise audience reach for all involved stakeholders. WBSC views the Olympic Channel as an exciting opportunity for all members of the Olympic Movement to truly be represented under one sports umbrella, and we view the IOC as the United Nations of sports. WBSC shares IOC president Thomas Bach’s innovative vision to evolve and take sport directly to where young people are, and that’s the digital world.”

EXTRA: International Ice Hockey Federation (channel partner since September 2016)

For the IIHF, the channel has provided an ideal outlet in areas where the governing body’s contracts with partners allow for rights to be awarded to the IOC-backed venture.

“We decided to work with the channel for the first time for our final three qualification tournaments to the 2018 winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang last September, showing all games from the tournaments in Minks, Oslo and Riga via live stream,” IHHF marketing and communications director Christian Hofstetter tells SportBusiness International.

“For the IIHF it made perfect sense as we have been able, through our partnerships with the channel, to get a broader distribution of our sport throughout the world. We usually look to share the content that is produced by the various organizers, but we are definitely looking at producing our own content that we can share with channel. On the other hand, the channel has also assisted us with content created form their side covering some gaps that might have existed in how the channel likes to provide content to its viewers.

“We have had a great start with Olympic Channel and it has real potential for having more content in the future and widening our fan base for our sport.”

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