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Volume 7 No. 81

On The Ground: Winter Games

Eurosport CEO Peter Hutton
Photo: Eurosport

You can tell Eurosport CEO Peter Hutton isn’t leaving his operations bunker in frigid Pyeongchang very often: He’s wearing a golf shirt and shows no signs of wind burn. I briefly interrupted Hutton’s day for a chat on Tuesday, the fourth day of Eurosport’s first Olympics as the pan-European rights holder. He declined to discuss reports that he’s accepted a job at Facebook but otherwise held court on Olympics operations for nearly half an hour.
 
So you’re four days in. How are you feeling?
HUTTON: You could describe it as four days in or two years in. The process started so long ago, it’s been fundamentally a relief to get things on air, because it’s been like a pregnancy that’s dragged on way beyond your patience level.
 
How are things going, logistically, so far?
HUTTON: The cold and the rescheduling is a headache for us, but ironically it’s a headache that might help us, because one of the issues we have is time zone. A lot of the events are clearly scheduled for NBC and others, and that doesn’t mean they’re a great time zone for Europe. The more the events overrun and end up getting rescheduled, the more it ends up being in a European-friendly time zone. And so the logistics have been painful in terms of the changes, but in terms of audience, it may well help us.
 
Like NBC, you’re measuring audience across all devices for the first time. How are total video views right now?
HUTTON: Our reaction is, we’re blown away by some of the numbers, particularly in the Nordics. We got a 90 percent share of viewing for the skiathlon in Norway. That sort of sums up how big this is, and there’s plenty of others in the 60s or 70s. What I’d love to do is try to compare that with four years ago in Sochi, with other broadcasters. We’re waiting for that data to come through. But our gut is actually we’re blowing them apart as well.

(Editor’s note: Discovery published results after this interview, claiming it’d reached 212 million viewers watching a total of 373 million hours through the first weekend of the Games.)
 
Do you feel you have to prove something to the IOC?
HUTTON: I think certainly for me personally, we made big promises coming into this. We said we’re going to change the way the Olympics are viewed in Europe. We’ve got to live up to those promises, so we put pressure upon ourselves going into this. And it’s frankly a massive relief when you start seeing the proof and the numbers at the other end. And we have two big targets here: One is to deliver for the IOC, and to show them they’ve made the right choice, and the second is to transform the image of what Eurosport and Discovery do in sport. And big events are the time you change peoples’ perceptions.
 
What’s your biggest concern right now?
HUTTON: It’s keeping the momentum, and keeping people focused on quality. Because adrenaline gets you through the first week, and a focus on quality gets you through the second week. And all the plans that were so carefully made are gradually being torn up, and we’re reacting to what’s happening at the events, and that’s the challenge. In broadcast, the danger is that a press conference that’s been planned six months ago gets more exposure than a breaking story, because it’s so much easier as an operation.