ARD, ZDF split costs, duties for Olympic Games
German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF are once again combining forces for the Summer Olympics, a strategic move that splits costs, splits responsibilities, and splits branding while creating a single channel of Olympic content.
The two share a large space in the IBC housing a large EVS server, studio, 16 edit suites, and more. The single Olympic channel is on air every day from 9:45 a.m. to 1 a.m., with branding of the channel changing back and forth between the two networks every day.
“We work together very closely, with about 200 technical people here working for both companies,” says Walter Johannsen, head of team, German TV, Olympic Summer Games. “A couple of years ago, we thought about doing what others do from their home facilities, but, because we have two channels, it is different.”
While some networks are beginning to deliver the OBS feeds to their broadcast centres in their home nations, both ARD and ZDF are producing all content on-site. The reason? In Germany, there is no space within the ARD or ZDF facilities to house a large Olympics operation.
“You can have 10 editing sites in Germany, but they are being used to create the regular programmes that still run on the networks,” he explains. “And you could build a new facility in Cologne or somewhere else, but then you would still need hotels.”
The other downside of basing operations in Germany is the inability to interview athletes and tell additional stories.
“We would have no guests in the studio, so, at the end, it would cost us a lot more,” he says. “Maybe it works for one company, but, for two companies like us, it will never work.”
The collaboration on the next Olympics begins two years ahead of each Games with planning meetings about workflows, studio design, and responsibilities.
“This year, we are at four venues with our own cameras, including swimming, athletics, rowing and canoe, and equestrian,” says Johannsen. “The IBC planning and technical operations are done by ZDF while the venue operations are handled by ARD. We also have two OB vans from ARD that are at Olympic Park and two from ZDF that are at rowing and equestrian. We also have mixed crews from both networks.”
Operations this year are working very well, he adds, with one signal leaving the IBC and landing in Frankfurt before being split out to both ZDF and ARD for archiving at each facility. Peak audience has hit upwards of 8 million viewers.
Attracting those peak audiences requires as much live content as possible. But, given that there is only one channel, some of the top events are delayed when two or more events of interest are going on at the same time. One possible solution is to rely more on streaming content to the Internet.
“We have had 120 million page impressions for the Olympics, and we think we should have the ability to stream everything like the BBC,” says Johannsen. “But German law does not allow us to do more than 60 hours per day.”
By the time the Winter Olympics hit Sochi in 14 months, he thinks, that situation needs to change (ARD and ZDF are responsible only for the Summer Games).
“We used to not tell the audience about digital channels from the main program because of the fear of losing audience,” he adds. “But that is ridiculous because streaming is for a special audience. So, even if you have five or six streams together, the audience is only 100,000. But they know where they get the content, and you have to learn that the streams have an additive effect and are not disturbing the main-channel ratings.”