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Opinion: overcoming Olympic hurdles with technology

As Paris counts down to the 2024 Olympics, Stephane Guez, co-founder and principal, Dalet, explains how technological innovation will deliver an engaging experience

The global spectacle of the 2024 Olympics in Paris will break new ground in several ways. Sure it features the debut of breakdancing as an Olympic event, but it will also be the first Games to showcase an identical number of female and male athletes. The Paris games will also have advancements off the field, with unprecedented coverage, including round-the-clock streaming, the trial of an AI-powered end-to-end 8K live-streaming system, and daytime broadcasts of swimming, gymnastics, and track and field finals.

Stephane Guez, co-founder and principal, Dalet

Speaking of firsts, Peacock, NBCUniversal’s American OTT streaming service, will livestream all 329 medal events, a noteworthy evolution in sports broadcasting. This pivotal move to streaming platforms highlights a major shift in how audiences engage with sports content. With over 5,000 hours of live coverage, complete event replays, and new multiview features, viewers can watch what they want on their chosen device.

Fan engagement is the key to winning in today’s competitive world of global sports. With an explosion of content to manage, distributed and often freelance teams to coordinate, multiple locations, and myriad distribution platforms to feed, technology will be key to helping journalists overcome the many hurdles required to produce winning coverage.

Producing Olympic Gold: A data-focused model 

Media outlets have an opportunity to reshape their coverage and diversify the agenda, diving into stories and covering athletes often overlooked during regular sports seasons. A more explanatory, data-driven approach will help audiences understand non-mainstream disciplines. Expanded coverage will inform about what happens on the ground beyond results, with post-event interviews with athletes. 

To engage Olympic audiences, media organisations must navigate an overwhelming flood of information with seamless management and collaboration strategies. The challenge is producing a constant stream of diverse, fact-checked, and compelling content for various platforms while managing the exponential increase in both input and output. 

French broadcasters will cover the games and the impact on Parisian life around the clock, not just from a sports perspective, but from a news perspective, from pre-game setup to closing ceremonies. France Télévisions has exclusive free-to-air rights to show the Games, with dedicated streams covering every sport across all screens. Other channels that do not have broadcast rights, such as regional channels and 24-hour television news channels, will focus on highlights and urban impacts as well as background stories and athlete profiles. Seamless collaboration will be required when sharing packages for affiliates to localise and rebrand.

Historically, broadcasters operated around a singular data model focused on linear television with fixed schedules driving the process. However, the dynamic nature of today’s sports and news cycles—exemplified by events like the Olympics—demands a more versatile approach. Content is now distributed across multiple platforms, including apps, radio, websites, social media, and podcasts. The once-clear division of labour between editors, videographers and producers has blurred, replaced by the need for real-time updates and instant accessibility. Adapting to this fast-paced environment necessitates a fundamental shift in organisational dynamics and information flow.

Broadcasters now need to efficiently produce platform-optimised versions of content. Tasks such as ingesting, scripting, editing, localisation, digital versioning, and graphics creation all revolve around the event. So most media outlets will leverage news workflow concepts for sports broadcasting. This streamlined process not only reduces costs but also enhances collaboration, visibility, and access to media assets. Consequently, producing platform-tailored versions of sporting events becomes significantly more efficient and cost-effective. This workflow is underpinned by an AI-driven data model that aggregates content types, enriches them with metadata, and provides the structure necessary for workflow automation. Task assignments and notifications ensure smooth operations. As linear and digital media continue to converge, this robust data model bridges the gap between editorial decision-making and automated technical processes, crucially impacting media production.

Olympic feats in the cloud: Transforming sports with technology

Increasing reliance on cloud infrastructure for content sourcing, processing, and distribution has prompted a reassessment of system designs and the associated infrastructure costs and scalability requirements. The cloud provides geographical flexibility and complements physical on-premise infrastructure. More fundamentally, a media workflow in the cloud is a software-defined infrastructure, enabling unprecedented agility and operational efficiency.

This means news and sports coverage is no longer constrained by physical infrastructure, nor limited to a single geographical location. Virtual media operations can respond almost immediately to any demand or change of circumstances, as adaptable as the news itself. In the past, broadcast systems were sized based on the “worst-case scenario,” with a large number of expensive ingest ports, media processing nodes, and storage. 

The challenge of ingesting and processing Olympic-level resources provides the perfect use-case for the elasticity of the cloud. Cloud-based video recorders spin-off in seconds, adjusting to requirements such as streaming protocol, encoding format, and bandwidth. Capturing feeds only for an event’s duration, they provide an ideal replacement for on-premises equipment farms, especially when ingest needs vary greatly within the day. Workload elasticity applies to media processing as well. Automatically expanded resources let content creators work concurrently on growing files from many sources with enough remote rendering power to deliver content on the fly from anywhere during live story development. Cloud-native platforms can optimise costs, by automatically adjusting and scaling infrastructure, almost in real-time, based on workload demands. Cloud-native applications can be designed so that you only pay for infrastructure as needed, thus optimising operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness. However, many broadcasters are adopting hybrid cloud approaches, combining on-premises infrastructure with cloud services. This strategy balances the benefits of both, aiding in major events like the Olympics while gradually reducing technical debt.

AI-powered broadcasting: The future of sports coverage

The worlds of sports and data are deeply intertwined, with AI playing a pivotal role. Since the 2018 PyeongChang Games, AI has supported judges and referees in making accurate calls. Intel’s AI-powered 3D Athlete Tracking (3DAT) revolutionised the fan experience at the Tokyo Games by providing near real-time insights and overlay visualisations. Looking ahead to Paris 2024, AI will enhance scoring accuracy and offer judges real-time performance analysis, redefining how we understand athletic achievements.

For broadcasters, AI is often more pragmatic. With hyper-localisation a key consideration, AI is essential to facilitate or eliminate basic or repetitive time-demanding tasks, and to assist in gathering information and preparing content. Integrated AI at scale can handle the complexity of multiple languages, automating translations of captions, graphics, voiceovers, and more. AI can support every stage of the production chain, analysing and indexing incoming content so it is discoverable and recommending relevant content without requiring journalists to waste time logging.

For example, if there is a gymnastics accident, instead of a journalist searching for a similar incident from the last Olympics, AI-powered recommendations can propose material, then re-package content so that it’s ready for distribution across any platform. AI can help to quickly repackage highlights with different branding for each affiliate or distribution platform, using consistent branding templates, localising and customising content for different audiences and platforms.

In just four years, technology has advanced greatly from traditional workflows that often required separate teams to use different tools and repositories on the same content for each platform. Hours would be spent on technical tasks to manually exchange content, adapt and process different versions. AI-powered automation can accelerate the workflows to “do more with less.” Produce once, then use AI to automatically create multiple versions. For example, crop a 16:9 interview of an athlete to 1:1, add digital graphics and text on screen, and prep to send to Facebook. 

Technological innovation and human collaboration are at the heart of the Olympics. The 2024 Olympics will not just be a display of athletic prowess but also a testament to the advancements in media technology. Media professionals who embrace story-centric workflows and AI-driven cloud infrastructure will cross yet another finish line in the race for innovation. Successfully navigating the complexities of modern Olympic coverage will ensure that audiences worldwide experience every moment of the Games like never before.