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Tokyo Olympics 2020 to be “The Most Digital Ever” and Put Cameras in Orbit
International Olympic Committee broadcaster Olympic Broadcasting Services plans for rocketing increase in digital viewing and remote cloud production for next Olympics

The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is set to be the "most digital ever," according to its host broadcaster.

Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) is briefing the digital teams of rights holders to prepare to connect with an online audience that will be larger than ever and to deliver enhanced digital coverage of the games.

"The future of content delivery is multi-media, multi-platform, personalised, mobile and social," says Raquel Rozados, OBS director of broadcaster services. "To stay relevant and continue our mission of serving the rights holders, and to help them captivate their digital audiences, our focus needs to be on the digital arena."

Demand for content related to the Olympic Games has increased because of the expanded coverage from various digital and social media around the world.

OBS estimates that the amount of programming required by broadcasters during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was ten times more than the volume required at the 2004 event in Athens.

"We started thinking of ways to address the issue," says OBS CEO Yiannis Exarchos. "This is where our paths crossed with Alibaba to explore how we can leverage cloud technology to make the work of broadcasters easier and more efficient."

OBS Cloud

Among the innovations will be the OBS Cloud, a cloud platform built and managed in partnership with Alibaba Cloud, a unit of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, which will likely deliver the largest scale live remote production in history.

A cloud broadcast solution would help broadcasters "work remotely and not have to bring so much equipment or so many people" to Tokyo, Exarchos says.

The OBS Cloud will include a specific selection of cloud services, in optimised configurations, for broadcasters to use as the building blocks for their sports production workflows, before and during the games.

The bundling of secured connectivity options between the International Broadcast Centre in Tokyo and OBS Cloud regional data centres is intended to offer easy-to-implement and cost-effective ingress and egress. 

"Our overriding aim is to give the broadcasters the opportunity to retain any part of their production infrastructure, or access to content, even after the Games and for as long as they wish without any interruption or the need for re-installations, re-ingesting," says OBS chief technical officer Sotiris Salamouris.

Alibaba has teamed with Olympics sponsor Intelto develop a sports AI platform for use in the run up to and during the Games.

Instead of using wearable sensors, the 3D Athlete Tracking Technology uses information from multiple standard cameras which provide different angles of the athletes as they train, processed in Alibaba’s cloud. The AI applies pose modelling techniques and other deep learning algorithms to the video to extract 3D mesh representations of athletes in real-time. These digital models will provide coaches with intricate biomechanical data for use as training tools.

"This technology has incredible potential as an athlete training tool and is expected to be a game changer for the way fans experience the games, creating an entirely new way for broadcasters to analyse, dissect and re-examine highlights during instant replays," says Navin Shenoy, EVP and general manager, Data Center Group, Intel.

Having already trialled 5G for contribution links and VR at the Winter Games in 2018, Intel is working with Japan’s NTT DOCOMO to provide 5G-based experiences in 2020. Expect 360° 8K video streams that may showcase live action across high-resolution devices at Olympic venues.  

What is not clear is whether there will be a standard host production in 4K UHD. Rio was covered largely in HD, with some 4K and some experimental 8K. Japan’s NHK will be all over the games with its Super Hi Vision 8K format, and it would make sense for OBS to deliver a UHD 4K High Dynamic Range main coverage since rights holders like the BBC can take this feed for delivery on online platforms like iPlayer. OBS has not however made such a decision public.

Olympics Now a Digital-First Show

The Rio Games were covered by more than 250 digital platforms and featured double the hours of coverage as TV (218,000 hours versus 81,500 hours).

NBC alone exceeded 2.5 billion live streaming minutes, over 1 billion more than all previous Olympic Games combined.

More than 9 million hours of content was streamed on the Olympic Video Player, with as many as 1 million daily unique viewers for live streaming and on-demand video. There was record social media engagement too, with more than 4 billion social media impressions (a metric for the number of times IOC posts have been viewed and 14.6 million Facebook fans, nearly double that of London 2012).

2020 Games from Space

Sometime between March and April 2020, a specially commissioned satellite will be released from the International Space Station to orbit the earth during the games and provide a perspective on the event from space.

The Tokyo 2020 G-SATELLITE will contain a cubicle housing animated mascots of the games (named Gundam and Zaku) and seven cameras which will record and transmit their movements. An electric bulletin board will display messages from the mascots.