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Game changers #1: Yiannis Exarchos, the brain behind Olympic Broadcasting Services

Yiannis Exarchos CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS)
by Rayane Moussallem, AIPS Media

PYEONGCHANG, February 27, 2018 - The flame is no longer burning in the cauldron, the athletes are back home and the lights have been turned off in all the venues as PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games have come to an end. And if there is one reason that people around the world enjoyed watching the Games, it is thanks to the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) who had the largest operation ever in the history of Winter Olympics.

More than 5000 hours of content were produced even though the competitions themselves require less than 1000 hours according to the CEO of OBS Yiannis Exarchos, who spoke exclusively to AIPS about the what made these Games different that the previous years.

He said: “Those have been an exceptionally successful Games, very well organized especially for a country that is not familiar with winter sports, I think this is the start of winter sports for Korea, they were extremely well staged Games. The level of competition was very high and the venues are beautiful.”

“The feedback that we received from our broadcasting partners speak about big ratings, great level of satisfaction and explosion on the front of digital consumption, because now we don’t have just traditional media televisions, we have a lot of content on digital.”

“We produced additional content for social media and have launched dedicated platforms that the broadcasters can use, we do a lot on the digital front and provide additional data, so I believe by far this is the most comprehensive coverage we have done.”

In comparison with Sochi, OBS produced 3700 hours of content four years ago. And even though OBS provide the basic production in high definition, they also produced in 4K, 4K HDR and 8K in cooperation with Japanese television, a stunning format for the future - at Tokyo 2020 maybe - that they will have in PyeongChang 2018 archives.

ICT Olympics

During a visit to the journalists at the Main Press Center, South Korea president Moon Jae-in spoke about PyeongChang 2018 being ICT Games (Information and Communications technologies), but where did this exactly happen on the broadcasting level?

Exarchos explained: “I would say that the major element is the shift to digital. Actually, not exactly a shift because traditional televisions remain very important and the main area of consumption of the Games. However, we do currently have an estimation that probably the number of hours of content that the right holders and broadcasters put out for the public is two parts digital and one part traditional television.

“Even in the most advanced markets like North America and Europe, you see already that the digital is taking over. I think the shift to digital is important precisely because it represents an engagement and embracement of the young generation with the Olympics.”

Fundamental relation

The relationship between OBS and the broadcasters, especially the very big ones like NBC for USA, CBC for Canada and Discovery Eurosport for Europe, is fundamental. They are the keys that allow vast part of the population of the world to watch the Games but also their contribution is very important financially.

“The rights' revenues are still the single most important source of revenues for the Olympic Movement and it is important to underline “Olympic Movement”. Those are not the revenues of the IOC; the IOC keeps like 9% from the total revenues of TV rights and sponsors for its own operational needs. But the rest is distributed and invested in the development of sport; those are amounts that the IOC contribute to the host cities of the Games and to all international federations and NOCs.”

“The development and financial health of most sports would be unthinkable without these contributions from IOC that essentially come to a big extent from the TV rights.” Exarchos told AIPS.

Universal coverage

PyeongChang 2018 were the first Winter Olympics that had practically a universal coverage. Unlike the Summer Games, Winter’s mostly focus on traditionally winter sports countries. However, with the assistance of the Olympic Channel, the new digital platform of the IOC, OBS provided full coverage of the Games on digital in new territories like Indian subcontinents.

“We had coverage in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, these people represent 1.7 billion of the world’s population who are not into winter sports, but the Olympic Movement is not about sports, it is about our values and it is important for us that those ideas and the five rings reach everyone.” Exarchos said.

Olympic Channel double task

The Summer Olympics is already the most seen event in the world, so the Olympic Channel was created primarily in order to sustain the interest in sports and the Olympic Movement during the period tin between the Games. These periods are dominated in every country by two or three dominant sports, like football in Europe, American Football or NBA in the United States.

Exarchos said: “This is a very good thing but the bad thing is that many of the Olympic sports do not have any exposure and the continuous engagement that they deserve. During the Games, we discover all those incredible stories of all those true heroes and athletes, we read their stories and we say “where have those people been? And then the flame goes off and they sort of disappear even in big sports like swimming, Michael Phelps for example you hardly see him competing in between the Olympics.”

“So the idea was to create a platform where there can be a constant promotion of Olympic sports and constant touch with the athletes but also a platform that can primarily bring into sports the young generation. We know that the following of sports is growing in age, that the millennia generation is not picking up sports as much as we would have liked, so this is an effort to make the young generation embrace sport and I believe that the channel has been up since only 18 months but if we can speak about one big success is that 85% of its followers are below the age of 35. For those who are aware about demographic of sports will realize that this is a big success.”

The Olympic Channel was also created to be a support for the Olympic Movement in covering territories or areas that perhaps are not covered, and the Winter Games were a good example where IOC did not have right holders covering the whole population of the earth so the Olympic Channel has assumed this responsibility.

Greece's Exarchos who was named CEO of OBS following London 2012, said: “The Olympic channel gets the feed that OBS is producing but on top of that they do special stories dedicated for those areas. In India and in the subcontinents, they will be broadcasting 1300 hours of coverage and additional stories so if you go to the digital asset of the Olympic Channel in those countries, in India for example, you will see a version of the channel which has been customized for the Indians and Indian athletes in addition to the competitions of the Games.”

“Moreover, we launched in PyeongChang a new offering from OBS which is called “content plus”, this is web based platform where all right holding broadcasters can go in and select primarily short form content that we produce, it is mainly content targeted to social media use. We have posted more than 4000 different pieces of content and the downloads the broadcasters have done is huge, a significant amount of that is also a content produced by the Olympic Channel and provided to OBS and therefore to the right holding broadcasters.”


Sustainable building

The OBS is located in the International Broadcast Center (IBC), the heart of the broadcast operations, a temporarily building that was built just for the Games. It has a total space of 55 000 square meters, around 38 000 is taken by the rights holding broadcasters.

“It’s not a luxurious building and IBC does not need to be like that, it has to be very simple and very functional. This is one of the best buildings we have ever worked in, the total number of broadcasters in the Games is 11 500, more than 4000 of them work for OBS while the rest are right holders. There are days where you have more than 8000 people working at the IBC.

“The building is 100% sustainable; so everything you see around here is material that was used in Rio 2016 and will be reused in Tokyo 2020 and potentially in Beijing 2022, we want to have 100% sustainability in the operation of broadcast.

“We had also a transition in using fiber instead of copper cables and to a very big extent we use fiber also in the venues and this contributes to the sustainability of our operations. This is the biggest operation we have done, we have 4000 people working with us, 650 of those are Korean universities’ students that we trained as part of OBS training program, they work in junior broadcast positions so they work as assistants’ camera, audio and telecommunications. They study in areas similar to what we do in broadcast, engineering, sport and they work in those junior professional positions and are being paid for that, they are not volunteers. So probably most of them had their first job in their lives by participating in the biggest production in the world.”

Tokyo 2020: milestones for broadcasting

Tokyo 2020 is just two years ahead and the expectations are really high for what sophisticated and extremely developed Japan itself can provide to the Games in terms of technology. In PyeongChang 2018, half a million-people watched the competitions in virtual reality and Exarchos expects a milestone for OBS work.

He said: “The preparations in Tokyo are doing very well with the fantastic organizing committee. Tokyo and Japan burn the lights of technology, there is a disruption coming from fundamental new technologies that I believe are inevitable to influence broadcasting.

“We want to be in the front gear of broadcasting, we want to excel but we want to try also new things as we tried virtual reality coverage in PyeongChang. For Tokyo, I consider that those are going to be milestones Games for broadcasting; you have the emergence of some very important technologies that were not produced before like Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things, Augmented Reality and this is where we will start focusing more our attention.

“We will always try to make the television coverage the best possible but I cannot hide the fact that we are extremely attempted by what technology has in store today. I am a huge believer of technology as an enabler, I don’t like doing complicated things just for the sake of doing them but I believe those technologies have a lot of tools to offer to us to make the stories of the Games and the athletes more compelling. So, I believe technology provides today the means and the tools to tell the stories of the greatest athletes of the world in ways that were not imaginable before and this is what we want to do in Tokyo.” Exarchos concluded.

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