IBC 2010: Sports Track Reveals OBS, BBC Olympic Plans for 2012

Sports is everywhere at IBC 2010, and, on Saturday, IBC brought the discussion to the Forum with a track of panel discussions dedicated to the challenges of sports production. Manolo Romero, CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), kicked off the day with an informative video and keynote address that revealed the ways in which the Olympic Games have historically driven technological advances in broadcasting, and London 2012 will continue that tradition of innovation.

An OBS staff of 150 has spent five years planning where to place more than 90 OB vans, 1,000 cameras, 100 super-slow-motion cameras, and 50 high-speed super-slow-motion cameras across 40 venues for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. At the first fully digital, HD summer Olympics, OBS plans to produce more than 6,000 hours of live TV, using new tracking systems and specialty cameras, new digital commentary systems, and a new video archive server that will allow rightsholders to remotely access all 6,000 hours of footage. New-media feeds will also be available in various profiles, and the Olympic News Channel will be greatly expanded to offer 24/7 HD coverage, distributed worldwide via satellite.

“Some of the broadcasters don’t need to have a lot of operations on-site in London because they will receive our Olympic News Channel, with highlights every day,” Romero explained.

New for 2012 will be a Broadcast Data Feed (BDF), a superset of the Olympic Data Feed that provides results, statistics, medal counts, records, and other data to rightsholders. In 2012, the BDF will add video logging, transmission schedules, and Commentator Information System (CIS), among other elements, which will also allow broadcasters to work remotely.

“In London, we are going to take advantage of the fact that audiences have 16:9 receivers,” Romero added. “The thing that is different today is that the changes are much faster. It took about 25 years to get full coverage in high definition, but I don’t think it will take nearly that long to get super high definition.”

Next up at the podium, David Mazza, SVP of engineering for NBC Olympics, provided the U.S. view on how Olympic coverage is produced. And then, Roger Mosey, BBC director of London 2012, concluded the presentation with the BBC’s plans to use 2012 as a showcase for both digital Britain and the BBC.

“The pledge for London is that we’ll make all 6,000 hours available to our audiences, so, instead of us editing, our audiences can choose what they want to see,” Mosey explained. “That’s using TV, digital services, online, and mobile, which didn’t grab a hold in the UK during the Beijing Games, but we think it will in 2012. We think 2012 is the breakthrough moment for digital.”

That breakthrough moment will be helped along by Project Canvas, an Internet-connected TV platform built on common standards that Mosey hopes to have available in living rooms long before the Opening Ceremonies. Project Canvas is a UK partnership among broadcasters BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, and ITV plc and communications companies Arqiva, BT, and TalkTalk. The BBC is a major stakeholder, but the project will have an independent governing body when it is complete.

“This will give you a fantastic amount of control,” Mosey said during a demonstration of the system features. “You get Internet power and TV together on one screen in your living room, so you can access an archive, customize your highlights, and use social networking on the TV in your living room.”

The IPTV system is powered by a digital box and a broadband connection, which will be offered by Internet service providers that meet certain specifications. Essentially, the system takes a free-view set of TV channels and layers the Internet on top of the television feed, with a navigation bar running through it.

“It’s not giving you necessarily every single thing on the Internet, but it’s giving you navigation through key things,” Mosey said. “If you’re watching the Olympics, the Olympic archive would be easily accessible from BBC Olympics coverage.”

The project was given approval by the BBC trust this year, so it should become available to consumers in 2011, giving viewers plenty of time to learn how the system works before they can put it to good use throughout the 2012 Olympic Games.