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How video production has adapted to showcase the Olympic Games to the world

By: Thomas Halkyard


It’s a challenging time to be an Olympic host. What should have been the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is set to commence a year later thanks to the global pandemic. Moreover, due to the ever-changing global travel picture, international visitors will not be welcomed as originally planned. That puts the onus firmly on broadcast platforms and the internet to deliver the Olympic experience.

The Olympics has evolved enormously over time, especially from the perspective of audience reach. The first Olympic Games to be televised were held in Berlin in 1936, which saw a total of 138 viewing hours and 162,000 viewers. By the time London 1948 came around, that had increased to more than 500,000 viewers. Most of them resided within a 50-mile radius of London and watched 64 hours of Olympic programming. Contrast that with the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, which were followed by more than a quarter of the world’s population across various media platforms.

Inevitably, much of the audience growth today is digital, in common with most other mainstream sporting events. The Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games was the most digitally viewed Winter Olympic Games ever, with 670 million global online users viewing digital broadcast coverage – 120% more than watched Sochi 2014. It’s a fair bet that the combination of rising digital consumption and a ban on international visitors at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will see this record equalled or smashed.

Delivering content to younger audiences online

The fundamental IOC broadcast policy as described in the Olympic Charter is to ensure “maximum presentation of the Olympic Games to the world”. Industry reports that have looked into media consumption habits in recent years, including those conducted by Imagen, have highlighted how audiences (particularly younger generations) have started to turn away from traditional, linear TV broadcasting. Instead, audiences increasingly prefer to ‘snack’ on short pieces of the latest content across online channels.

Increased online consumption of media was certainly seen in the UK with the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games streamed 22.2 million times across BBC Sport and BBC iPlayer, smashing the previous record of 6.2 million streams for the Sochi 2014 Games. In total 17.7 million unique browsers followed the BBC’s digital coverage across desktop (30%), tablet (18%), mobile (47%) and connected TV (5%) in the UK alone – with an average 2.9 million unique browsers watching every day.

The IOC stats tell their own tale of this digital rise. While Vancouver 2010 saw a broadcast TV audience of 1.8 billion take in the spectacle and a mere 0.3 billion online video views, the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games saw a small increase in global broadcast audience (up to 1.92 billion), but online video views rocketed to 3.2 billion. Fast forward to 2021, and the IOC believes that the broadcast footprint at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be 30 per cent smaller than it was at Rio 2016, while content production will increase significantly by about 30%.

Video gives social media a level playing field

Social media has proven itself to be the perfect partner to live action – providing a popular, real time forum for conversation between an engaged audience. Twitter, on average, sees a +4.1% lift in unique visitors during key live entertainment and sporting events throughout the world – the recent Super Bowl generated a massive 19% uplift in unique visitors. Even if the action is on the TV, the conversation and the real engagement lives on social.

However, the initial inception and subsequent growth of video content within social media platforms in the last 5-10 years, has seen it become its own online video distribution channel and a crucial piece in the overall digital content strategy for most large (and small) broadcast events. Social media is especially suited to sports or award shows where there are pockets of action that are perfect for sharing as short highlight clips.

BBC Sport accounts had more than 50 million video views in the UK on social media during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, with these accounts engaging with over 10 million users between 9 February to 25 February, 70% of whom were under 34.

Until recent Olympic Games, social media was still used as a majority text and image-based news outlet and chat forum. It brought you the latest updates from the events but it hadn’t fully grown to encapsulate broadcast video as we know it. But now, the whole focus has shifted.

During the most recent Summer Olympics, NBC – US broadcaster for the games – generated over 600 million video views on its Facebook page and 35 million Snapchat users watched over 230 million minutes of Olympic content. The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games saw more than 160 million interactions on Instagram during the Games, with more than 21 million on Twitter and 96 million on Facebook.

A separate report on social activity during the Games found that 50,000 new fans followed the @Olympics Twitter handle in one day, thanks mainly to the takeover by the iconic K-POP band EXO, who performed during the Closing Ceremony at PyeongChang 2018.

Serving large volumes of ‘snackable’ content

Delivering high-volume, high quality content to rights holders is the central strategy for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. The games will be the first to be natively produced in 4K HDR, and NHK, Japan’s host broadcaster, has long been deeply engaged in producing a comprehensive broadcast package in 8K – a format that “reaches the limit of the human eye”.

The global content delivery logistics, meanwhile, are based around a ‘massive adoption’ of cloud services, enabling a broader and deeper mix of content than ever before to be delivered to media organisations across the globe, in near-real time.

Producing and delivering the Olympics Games in varied formats across multiple fronts (TV, online, social media, etc.) relies on the efficient management, storage and distribution of video content to facilitate an all-encompassing and truly engaging experience for the audience. The ability to capture and clip live and near-live content for immediate delivery to a number of distribution channels and partners is crucial when looking to capitalise on the modern audience’s new and varied demands for content.

As Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) Chief Executive Yiannis Exarchos recently told an official Olympics interviewer: “It’s not about consumption of technology. It’s about experiencing a better way of telling the stories of the greatest athletes of the world.”


For more information about delivering video to multiple channels efficiently, see what Imagen Pro can do. Request a demo today.

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