Olympic Broadcasting Services Enlarges Its Role for Vancouver Games

Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), the host broadcaster created by the International Olympic Committee in 2001, will mark the beginning of an era at next month’s Winter Games in Vancouver. For the first time ever, it will handle all host-broadcasting duties. Previously, OBS worked in conjunction with a broadcast organization put together by the host nation.

“The Vancouver Games are the fulfillment of the IOC’s call to create greater continuity in producing the Games,” says OBS CEO Manolo Romero. “We are also charged to improve methods, innovate new services, and create efficiencies that benefit rightsholders. Since the Beijing Games, we have been engaged in a comprehensive effort to advance the art of the Olympic broadcast. The Vancouver Games will set new benchmarks for the broadcast rightsholders’ ability to communicate the Olympics to their audiences.”

OBS’s unified effort has enabled significant innovation and improvement in the broadcast of the Games, which will be evident in a number of important landmarks in Vancouver. It will be the first Winter Games to receive truly global coverage and will also be the first available completely in HD with 5.1 audio coverage of all events.

Another important first, Romero points out, is worldwide coverage of the Winter Games enabled by the Olympic News Channel, a headline and highlights service.

“Previously, the Winter Games were only available in certain regions — mostly Europe, North America, and other places where winter sports are predominant,” he says. “Now the Olympic News Channel and Multichannel Project provide remote access so that our broadcasters who cannot come to Vancouver can still offer the Games to their audiences.”

Tested at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Olympic News Channel will sport several improvements in Vancouver: more feature stories on athletes, more behind-the-scenes coverage, and more breaking news.

Among other firsts for OBS will be the Olympic Data Feed (ODF), a metadata information service to aid broadcaster customization of content; “fingerprinting” content-identification system for Olympic material; the multichannel project to deliver multilateral and unilateral feeds for Latin America/Asia/Pacific broadcasters; and a Unilateral Venue Server, a new technical facility providing access to feeds from OBS’s OB vans at selected locations.

Romero says the Unilateral Venue Server will be located only in Whistler, which is home to the sledding and alpine events. In London, however, the goal will be to have servers at each venue, allowing broadcasters to plug in for local access to content on the servers instead of basing all operations at the IBC.

OBS will also once again help make it easier for broadcasters around the world to deliver new-media experiences, including a mobile-phone feed.

The OBS innovations often use novel strategies to advance traditional solutions.

According to Sotiris Salamouris, head of Technical Engineering & Technical Operations for OBS, the choice of mobile-production vendors shows a commitment to advancing the art of Olympic coverage. Hi-def OB vans from the North American fleet include units from Game Creek Video, F&F Productions, Dome Productions, Mira Mobile, and Corplex, which will be working side-by-side with European counterparts Alfacam and SBP. Altogether, more than 24 HD mobile-production units will be deployed throughout the games.

“The North American and European vendors utilize much the same technology but take very different approaches with it,” adds Salamouris. “By having them work together, we step outside our experience to learn from each other. Aside from what this brings to Vancouver, it also will inform decisions ahead about how best to produce the London Games in 2012.”

The infrastructure for the Olympic News Channel, too, reflects OBS’s commitment to innovation.

“There are many excellent, established technical solutions we might have deployed for building this round-the-clock headline news feed,” says Salamouris. “Instead, we considered the concept fresh. Working closely with EVS and Panasonic, we have been able to develop significant workflow advances.”

EVS, for example, is at the core of the OBS video-server network, a system capable of recording the entire Winter Games; the system in Beijing was able to hold only three days of events before video needed to be offloaded to removable media. Panasonic, for its part, will once again be at the core of the production, providing cameras and DVCPRO recording media.

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