Tokyo 2020 Olympics organisers were lauded by IOC president Thomas Bach for being ‘well prepared’ as the games come 600 days nearer on Sunday (December 2). For most it is not a significant milestone but for 160 people from 35 nationalities tucked away in a building overlooking a highway in Madrid, the big job just got closer.
These are the people of the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), a wing of the International Olympic Committee responsible for providing footage of every competition beamed around the world since 2008. To make the task a whole lot tougher, the size of the audience is phenomenal as is the money generated.
Over five billion viewers tuned in for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as opposed to 3.4 billion for this year’s football World Cup in Russia.
Television stations from around the world have splashed out more than six billion dollars for the rights to the Games in Tokyo – with the entire broadcast 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 finalisation of our plans for Tokyo,” says 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).”
From burden for host cities to IOC managed
The first time that live pictures were beamed from Olympics was Berlin in 1936 and it was until 1964 in Tokyo when the live footage was broadcast around the world. Back then it was the responsibility of the host nation to provide the coverage and it remained that way until 2008.
“During the games we employ a team of more than 7,000 professionals coming from 90 different countries, we have 1,000 cameras, hundreds of thousands of kilometres of cables,” says Exarchos. “This started to become a big burden for the organising committee as the Games grew bigger and more complex. As early as the Games of Atlanta (1996), it was made clear that the IOC should do something to support the cities.”
So it was then that the IOC created OBS in 2001 to provide coverage of all Olympic and Paralympic Games. Beijing 2008 marked OBS’ first outing and Sotiris Salamouris, in charge of technology at OBS, was in Beijing to discuss the next Winter Olympics in 2022. “We need to have a good number of discussions with the organising committee in terms of the infrastructures they need to make available for us,” says Salamouris.
“The IBC, that is the priority.” The IBC is the International Broadcast Centre, a bustling hub set up in each host city where television channels from all over the world get the signal from OBS to broadcast back home. “We need to work quite early with the organising committee to find this facility, to secure it, to agree about timelines, additional works necessary. This is what we have begun with Paris,” says Salamouris looking ahead already to the Summer Olympics of 2024.
Demand for TV rights is constantly on the rise, and he points out it will continue with the emergence of new digital players. “Ninety percent of the TV rights go for the support of the Olympic movement and the development of sport,” he says. “The funding that comes from the television rights of the Games is a lifeline for the support of sports. The vast majority of the sports which are in the Olympic programme would have a hard time surviving if it were not for revenues coming from the rights.”