The Sports Examiner: Cloud computing, artificial intel changing Olympic broadcasting

Olympic Broadcasting Services chief Yiannis Exarchos at Wednesday's news briefing from Korea (Photo: Screenshot of IOC video feed).

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A fascinating – and somewhat scary – look into the future of Olympic broadcasting was shared at an online round-table session with Olympic Broadcasting Services chief Yiannis Exarchos (GRE) from the Winter Youth Olympic Games in the Gangwon Province of Korea on Wednesday.

Exarchos, the head of OBS since 2012, explained that a revolution in television production is underway, with more and more broadcasters adopting the “Olympic Cloud” technology used in Tokyo in 2021 (via Olympic sponsor Alibaba) to allow them to create their Olympic broadcasts at home instead of having to bring hundreds of staff to the site of the Games. They are being employed now:

“Many traditional fundamentals that we would have in the host city like the master control of the Games, distribution to broadcasters, creating graphics, creating and editing stories and so on, all these are not done in Gangwon. They are done back in the headquarters of OBS, in Madrid, where we have our technical facilities.

“This obviously leads into very significant savings, and also very significant help for the local organizers. We have less people on the ground, they need less support, less logistics, less transport, less accommodation, and this is the way to the future.”

Exarchos said 44.5% of the OBS production effort is remote in Gangwon, and that requests for remote distribution for Paris from right-holding broadcasters is up 279% from Tokyo in 2021. Moreover, the use of cloud technology for Games broadcasting is allowing a smaller footprint in the venues, replacing the familiar production van with servers and distribution links through cloud computing.

Already, systems of this type are proving themselves in Gangwon for curling and ice hockey. The same concept will be used in Paris for judo, shooting, tennis and wrestling. Exarchos: “It’s far more efficient and far more sustainable.”

The OBS chief also explained at length the impact of artificial intelligence (A.I.) on the broadcast process, already a major part of the OBS plan for Paris. He pointed to the 11,000 hours of content that OBS will produce in Paris:

“It’s a huge amount of content, and obviously to manage and create highlights out of it, customized highlights for different countries, different athletes, different sports, for different platforms, for social media for vertical videos and so on, this does require a huge capacity.

“And A.I. has started very credibly producing this capacity for us. So this scaling is giving us and our rights-holding broadcasters a lot of capacity and a lot of capabilities. …

“We will be using automated highlights for 14 different sports in Paris. … The difficulty for us is to create credible systems for many sports that are not, let’s say, so popular.”

A.I.-generated highlights will be created in Paris for athletics, badminton, basketball, beach volleyball, football, artistic gymnastics, handball, skateboarding, swimming, table tennis, tennis, volleyball and wrestling.

He also discussed a fascinating project, to use A.I. for live production, using a multi-lens concept:

“This technology is not yet mature for the complexity that we have in the Olympic Games but I think that in a very short period of time, it will be quite mature for lower-level coverage, for simpler coverage, and will be extremely cost effective, and also very, very sustainable.

“So we will keep on testing these systems and see how we can actually use them at some point in the Games.”

This is an exciting concept, especially for smaller sports federations, to be able to better offer streaming coverage of their own events, on their own sites and others.

But Exarchos was also concerned about the danger side of A.I.:

“Risks around the protection of private identity and the privacy, risks around the protection of minors, risks around the protection of [intellectual property], risks around the protection of what is real and what is fake. I belong to the ones who believe that very, very fast the world should start reacting and putting a structure of regulation around several elements of A.I. and for us, all these things are a consideration.”

The IOC’s head of digital, Leandro Larrosa (ARG), noted that these technologies are allowing the IOC to feed its social-media channels – 40 of them, in nine languages – faster than ever. The organization’s total social audience grew from 90 million in 2022 to 115 million in 2023, despite not having an Olympic Games in that year.

Observed: Although Exarchos noted it, the impact of the cloud-computing elements on Olympic television production will have an enormous impact on the future staging of the Olympic Games. The substantially-reduced need for space, people, hotel rooms, food, transportation and everything else will reduce organizing committee costs significantly and make available resources for officials, media, sponsors and, yes, even fans, more abundant and at lower cost.

And as he signaled, while there are dangers, these technologies will only accelerate in the future.

~ Rich Perelman

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