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Olympic TV potential on view at Youth Olympic Games

Nanjing 2014 television audiences see scenic golf courses, but none of the avid spectators expected at Pebble Beach or other world class golf events.
Nanjing 2014 television audiences see scenic golf courses, but none of the avid spectators expected at Pebble Beach or other world class golf events.
Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

An expansion of Olympic Broadcast Service coverage is a key element of the 2020 Agenda that the International Olympic Committee will evaluate at its planning meetings in December this year. The website www.olympic.tv is already operational, but it is a fairly simple news broadcast outlet. Olympic.tw does not currently display the sophisticated programming that ESPN, NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports and their competitors offer. Olympic Broadcasting Service is currently providing extensive video recordings from the Nanjing 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games. Watching how premium broadcasters are repackaging the material and targeting audiences can show the kinds of choices that the envisioned global Olympic Television Network will have to consider to become a commercial and community building success.

  • Live Broadcasts vs. Pre Recorded Content. Technology will never change the fact that there are 24 standard time zones around the world. When it is noon in Nanjing, China, it is 4 a.m. in London and 11 p.m. in New York. Obviously, only the most dedicated fans will be watching live broadcasts in the middle of the night. While these live broadcasts have the attractive feature of suspense, most viewers of most events will need pre-recorded material to be repackaged with commentary, interviews and venue reports to give viewers more incentives to watch contests whose outcomes are already published online and on social media.
  • Official Languages vs. Local Languages. Both English and French are official languages of the International Olympic Committee and at Olympic Sports events. And the base of Olympic Broadcasting Service in Madrid builds a helpful link with the large Spanish speaking audience, nearly one billion worldwide. But when you add in the local language of Chinese at Nanjing 2014 or Portuguese at Rio 2016, that is already at a level that distracts from the dynamics of sports competition itself. The Olympic Games have thousands of broadcast journalists accredited by local national Olympic Committees to bridge the language gap and provide high quality broadcasts in the local language of their country. That formula only works for very large audiences, so the envisioned Olympic Television Network will have to experiment with other formats that engage local audiences in multiple languages.
  • Highlights vs. In-depth Coverage. Conventional Olympic television coverage has traditionally focused on highly competitive sports with world records being challenged and visually exceptional events like whitewater kayaking and ski jumping. Standard editing of current footage from the Youth Olympic Games is providing a good example of this kind of kaleidoscope coverage. But existing broadcast channels with loyal sports audiences already have experienced staff in place to edit this kind of material and deliver it to their local audiences. So the envisioned Olympic Television Network will face pressure to compete with more in-depth coverage, interviews and how-to material that appeals to athletes and coaches.
  • Sponsor Loyalty vs. Sponsor Melange. Occasionally, business journalists need to introduce a new term to describe an emerging business phenomenon. “Melange” a coffee brewed from mixing many different coffee blends and spices that do not overpower one another, comes closest to what is visible at Nanjing 2014 – a large number of sports brands competing for attention on team uniforms of multiple competitors, amidst logos of differing sports federations. This is a notable contrast to the exclusive sponsorship programs that distinguish the Olympic Games themselves. While some structure will be needed to achieve high Olympic standards, having more broadcast hours should provide a foundation for also having many more sponsors.
  • Audience Building and Audience Retention. Nanjing is generating a good impression as a sophisticated city with a large sports institute and world class tennis and golf clubs. But it has never been an international tourism favorite, tourist visas for China can be difficult to obtain, and the Nanjing 2014 audience is overwhelmingly Chinese. As a result, enthusiastic crowds applaud at events popular with Chinese spectators, like table tennis and gymnastics, while the arenas of sports like handball and beach volleyball look half-empty and lack the atmosphere associated with world class competition. Staging the best dynamics for live television audiences is a sophisiticated profession. Group sales account managers for professional sports teams do a good job of making sure full arenas of engaged fans will look good to television audiences. And knowledgeable fans make good candidates for brief television interviews. So a long term strategy for building and retaining live audiences that have the right dynamics for television audiences will be important to take Olympic TV to the next level.

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