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Volume 25 No. 64
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OBS Drives Video Improvements, Push For Centralization

With the International Olympic Committee preparing to claw back control over more duties from local Games organizers, it put its most recent success story in such centralization on display in a recent tour at Pyeongchang.

Olympic Broadcasting Services CEO Yiannis Excharos gives a tour of operations inside Pyeongchang's International Broadcast Centre.
Photo: Ben Fischer

Olympic Broadcasting Services, founded in 2001 and first operational for the 2008 Beijing Games, has enabled rapid improvements in the quality of Olympic television coverage and video content production, while cutting staff and keeping costs consistent, CEO Yiannis Excharos said.

At the midway point of Pyeongchang 2018, OBS was expecting to finish this year with 5,200 hours of video content — a 41 percent increase from Sochi in 2014 and a fivefold jump from Turin in 2006.

But all that’s happening without increases in costs or workforce, Excharos said, primarily because it’s a full-time centralized staff of broadcast professionals. “The overall cost of the operations of OBS has remained more or less flat since the years of the Athens Games, if you account for inflation,” he said.

OBS replaced the old model, in which every Games host committee re-created a central broadcast system from scratch. Host broadcast services provide the basic live coverage of all the sporting events, which rights-holding broadcasters like NBC and Discovery Eurosport then enhance or adapt to fit their own viewers’ needs.

In the months heading into Beijing ’08, there were 260 people on permanent staff in Beijing and 75 people in Vancouver preparing for the 2010 Olympics, with just 11 at OBS headquarters, Excharos said. Now there are 163 total employees at OBS, and they handle all current and future Games.

The difference, Excharos said, is that OBS worldwide headquarters in Spain is now staffed by industry veterans with an average experience of 8.5 Games, rather than startup employees from particular countries. (OBS still hires local workers in each location to assist.)

“There isn’t much of a learning curve,” he said. “Also, our DNA is production and technical. The majority of our staff are engineers, and engineering is all about efficiency, so for us, changing the way we make it work and make it more efficient doesn’t meet any internal resistance.”

This year, OBS is experimenting in virtual reality with help from new IOC sponsor Intel, and also is shooting some events in 4K definition, and trying 8K for events such as ski jumping and snowboarding big air.

The IOC has said it wants to take additional services traditionally run by local organizers and put them under the control of central services, given the success of OBS.