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The most watched Olympics yet?

By Freddie Weiss

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will finally kick off today. Organisers have been busy preparing for a two-week live-sports bonanza that is set to replenish sports fans appetite for the globe’s most popular sporting event following a year-long delay.

The worldwide popularity of the games today owes a lot to media technology, which has enabled the IOC to reach global audiences with inspiring content that captures the sporting spectacle in an authentic and exciting way. Just look at the tension and excitement of the 100m final in 2012 – the quiet anticipation, then the roar of the crowd as Usain Bolt takes control, and the collective celebrations afterwards – all shared with viewers in front of TV sets everywhere.

But this year, we will watch an Olympics that will, for the first time, be competed behind closed doors. This Olympics, like no other, is dependent on media technology, and the latest advances are set to deliver a viewing experience like never before.

Cloud technology providing a boost to live broadcast

How live content is produced and delivered has evolved tremendously over the five years since the last Summer Games. A great example is remote and cloud-based production workflows. These technologies were initially driven by a desire to reduce travel times for crews and minimise the amount of production gear, trailers, and personnel travelling to produce live shows on the ground. They have really come into their own over the last year and have helped keep production going despite huge challenges in deploying production teams in person.

The growing adoption of these tools brings exciting prospects for the Olympic viewing experience at home. Remote and cloud-based production models enable show producers to capture more live content from events than ever before because broadcasters and streaming providers need fewer resources to record multiple events in one day from the same location. Meanwhile, streaming technology makes it easier and cheaper to scale channels up and down.

For sports fans, this means having greater access to the full range of Olympics events than ever before. This is especially good news for fans of niche events, such as skateboarding, which is one of five new additions this year.

And while these technologies were once primed for small and mid-tier events, the pandemic has accelerated its use for sporting events of all sizes and formats. Golf, for example, requires an incredibly complex setup due to the size and open nature of the courses and would have otherwise likely taken several years to embrace remote or distributed production. However, several major golfing events have recently adopted the tech to deliver broadcast-quality coverage safely and efficiently – proving its applicability for an Olympic-sized event.

More streaming = more content

One of the most prominent industry trends of recent years, catalysed by the pandemic, has been an immense consumer migration from traditional TV to streaming-based platforms for all types of media content. This migration offers an exciting bright spot for the Summer Games. Thanks to significant developments in live streaming technology, primetime coverage of the Olympics will be made available on several major streaming services, including NBC’s Peacock, Sling TV, FuboTV, YouTube TV, and more. NBC also reported a deal with esports streaming service Twitch to deliver a range of alternative Olympic-themed programming to younger audiences, offering interactive and ‘bonus’ content to supplement the live action.

These services offer fans the flexibility to enjoy Olympic content they want on whichever device and in whichever format they prefer – whether with the family on the living room TV or snacking on the go via a smartphone or tablet.

By embracing the latest tech innovations, Olympic rights-holders are set to produce a far more eclectic array of content than ever before – including more live feeds from more events, and more related content such as interviews, commentary, and social media ‘highlight’ feeds. As a sports fan myself, I can’t wait for the Games to begin!