Internet streaming records may well be broken this week when the Olympic torch lights the official start of the 23rd Winter Olympiad but it will be the avalanche of social media support for the Games action over the next fortnight that should attract most industry attention.
The IOC may be a 124-year-old organisation, but it has never been conservative where production technology is concerned. It is making extensive use of technology such as 4K UHD and High Dynamic Range (even 8K UHD HDR) to present what it considers the pinnacle of sporting achievement in the best light possible.
Nor, to give due credit, is it lost on IOC members that the Olympic brand needs an infusion of youth to sustain its mammoth machinery into the next century. The IOC subsidiary, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), has laid extensive IP circuits around the South Korean venues and, for the first time anywhere, some 5G connectivity for live contribution (both to reduce latency and to deliver more material than ever to the connected platforms of its rights holders). OBS has also prepared its most sizeable social media production yet.
Content+, as the OBS service is called, has been introduced to satisfy its rights holder’s request for more social media-relevant content that can be rapidly browsed, pulled and published. It primarily consists of 1-3-minute video clips, plus items like medals compilations, ‘music and cultural’ compilations, athlete interviews and venue aerials curated by OBS and aggregated for broadcasters to dip into.
Olympic rights holders, don’t forget, are, for the most part, public service and free-to-air broadcasters, a group ring-fenced by the IOC for the value of their massive audience reach. Their primary concern is the live linear HD broadcast, with social media channels playing a supporting role.
This, though, is changing – and nowhere more dramatically than in the decision to award Discovery-owned Eurosport almost exclusive European rights to these and the next three Games for EUR 1.3 billion. While some territories have retained simultaneous free-to-air coverage (the BBC will have a healthy broadcast schedule, but its online commitment has been slashed because of the deal) Eurosport’s then chief Peter Hutton convinced the IOC that it could deliver the growing, younger demographic it needs by making a digital-first play. Hutton’s coup did not go unnoticed by Facebook, of course, which will welcome him onboard once the Games are over.
So Eurosport’s coverage will be scrutinised closely. Its strategy also recognises that social media is critical to the broadcaster’s long-term goal of ramping subscriptions to Eurosport Player and ultimately being the ‘Netflix for Sports’ before Disney arrives with its ESPN branded SVOD.
Eurosport could have topped and tailed the IOC’s Content+ but has instead invested in its own social media content creation effort from PyeongChang. This involves a team of at least 50 on the ground – a mix of editorial crew and digital ‘influencers’ working out of a mobile facility Eurosport has called the ‘Radical Van’. They will create multi-language content to support Eurosport’s 48 territory Games coverage.
Eurosport also appointed U.S agency Cycle to create editorial for publication on Snapchat in Europe as part of a wider agreement that Discovery has for producing mobile-first shows for Snapchat’s Discover platform. (Incidentally, Buzzfeed is performing the same role out of PyeongChang for NBC Universal and its bespoke content coverage of the Games on Snap).
The Eurosport Player will already allow fans to ditch the traditional schedule, to ‘zone-in’ on sports or aspects of sports (augmented graphics tracking of speed skaters, maybe) to customise their own coverage from up to 4,000 hours of total available output across two weeks. Social media chunks this up further in ways which production teams have yet to fathom. Will ‘social’ supplement live action as a second screen? Will it encourage more live views to major moments? Will it prove popular for more esoteric content?
Perhaps the most significant part of Eurosport’s effort is the introduction of a bespoke cross-platform measurement tool to understand just how effective its coverage will be on its linear and digital properties and over social media. Eurosport is giving itself a head-start by slashing the cost of Eurosport Player in some countries, including across Benelux, from EUR 6.99 to 0.99 for February.
The so-called ‘Total TV’ cross-measurement solution was co-devised and is being implemented by French marketing and advertising giant Publicis. “Official audited data from television and online measurement systems are at the heart of the calculation,” explained Chris Jones, Publicis’ Global Lead, Research & Evaluation in its Sports & Entertainment division. “Clever use of survey research allows us to understand the crossover in people who connect with the Games via both TV and digital/social platforms, meaning we can remove any double-counting and determine the true pan-European audience reach of an event for the first time.”
Photo shows cross-country skiing from the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (courtesy of Olympic Games/IOC)