Mon, Dec 03, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Olympic broadcasters gear up for the big event


Screens line the wall of the production room for Olympic Broadcasting Services and the Olympic Channel in Madrid on Nov. 13.

Photo: AFP

Clock-watching is an integral part of any Olympics, but even the most eagle-eyed sporting anoraks might be forgiven for missing that yesterday marked 600 days until the start of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. For most people, it is not a particularly significant milestone, but for 160 people of 35 nationalities laboring away in a building overlooking a highway in Madrid, the pressure of organizing the biggest television show on earth just went up a notch.

These are the people of the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), a wing of the International Olympic Committee responsible since 2008 for providing the pictures of every competition that are beamed around the world.

The size of the audience is phenomenal, as is the money that is generated. Over 5 billion viewers tuned in for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, as opposed to 3.4 billion for this year’s FIFA World Cup.

Television stations from around the world have dished out more than US$6 billion for the rights to the Tokyo Games — broadcasting the event is a complex, lucrative business managed from the Spanish capital.

“Preparing and planning for the games is an ongoing function, so as we speak, we are obviously very close to the finalization of our plans for Tokyo,” said Yiannis Exarchos, the imposing Greek boss of the OBS. “But we have already started quite detailed planning for the Winter Games in Beijing [2022] and we have already started engaging with Paris [2024] and Los Angeles [2028].”

Pictures were beamed live for the first time from the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, but it was not until the 1964 Tokyo Olympics that pictures went live around the world.

Back then, it was the responsibility of the host nation to provide the coverage, and that was how it stayed until 2008.

“During the Games, we employ a team of more than 7,000 professionals coming from 90 countries. We have 1,000 cameras and hundreds of thousands of kilometers of cables,” Exarchos said.

“This started to become a big burden for the organizing committee as the Games grew bigger and more complex,” he added. “As early as the Games in Atlanta [1996], it became clear that the IOC should do something to support the cities.”

So it was that the IOC created OBS in 2001 to provide coverage of all Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“Major sports events remain the holy grail of broadcasting,” Exarchos said.

Demand for television rights is constantly increasing, and this will continue with the emergence of new digital players in the market, he added.

“Ninety percent of the TV rights go for the support of the Olympic movement and the development of sports,” he said.

The IOC keeps the rest.

“The funding that comes from the television rights of the Games is a lifeline for the support of sports,” he added. “The vast majority of the sports that are in the Olympic program would have a hard time surviving if it were not for revenue coming from the rights.”

And with that, Exarchos returns to work, ticking off another day on the road to Tokyo.

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