Media Rights, Politics & Governance, Olympics, Paralympics, Global, Asia

OBS Cloud: a sports broadcasting revolution of Olympic proportions

A year out from Tokyo 2020, Joey Tan (pictured below), the head of global strategic initiatives at Alibaba Cloud International, explains how the scalability of cloud-based live broadcasting is set to transform the Games viewing experience.

by Joey Tan
OBS Cloud: a sports broadcasting revolution of Olympic proportions

The world always holds it breath for Olympic Games track and field finals and as we wait for the Tokyo 2020, in a timeframe lasting a little over - or under - ten seconds, the future of sports broadcasting using the cloud will be redefined.

The Olympic 100m track and field sprint records are 10.62 seconds, set by Florence Griffith-Joyner in Seoul in 1988, and 9.63 seconds, set by Usain Bolt at London 2012. Whether records stand or fall next year, the sprint finals always capture the imagination of the world. These two main events alone attract vast audiences as people around the globe stop whatever they are doing and watch live on any available screen.

Those few seconds are seen by billions of people, whether streaming across fibre, over mobile networks and Wi-Fi, via satellite or linear broadcast. What is unseen is that those images will be part of a production revolution in sports broadcasting. It will represent a cloud-based change for those behind the camera and for the global audiences ‘glued’ to their TV, mobile, tablet, laptop, kiosk, or giant outdoor plasma and LED displays.

Such an event being watched live by billions of people will demonstrate the scalability of cloud platform-based live broadcasting, which can be delivered to broadcasters in every country thanks to a revolution started by Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) and its decision to partner with Alibaba Cloud to create a cloud-based sports broadcasting platform.

How the OBS Cloud will change Olympic broadcasting

This revolution is already underway for broadcast rights holders for the 2020 Olympics.

Traditionally, rights holders really had only one option for covering the Olympics, so they all went through the same process. They would first book space at a complex media centre which was specially built to serve the needs of many different TV broadcasters.

In the run up to the Games, they would then build bespoke studios and temporarily deploy unique remote broadcast infrastructure such as outside broadcast units, editing suites and network connectivity at a massive scale. These efforts were always expensive in terms of on-site human capital and physical infrastructure set-up. After building and testing, everything was put into production for the duration of the Games, then it was dismantled and shipped home.

But in 2020, a new paradigm is available as broadcast engineers will be able to choose remote broadcast services supported by the OBS Cloud to support their on-site activities.

The budget implications alone are huge. Broadcast technology leaders know they are no longer immune from the ‘get more done with less’ pressures that have pushed cloud efficiencies into other B2B and B2B2C services. Using OBS Cloud radically changes the need for location-based infrastructure and physical presence for remote broadcasting through the availability of cloud infrastructure. For broadcast CTOs and CIOs, the cost implications of scaling back feet on the ground and physical asset deployments are clear.

But the cloud is about far more than infrastructure. From camera capture to low latency upload, to editing, to streaming: the cloud is changing the game in terms of speed, production values and experience in broadcast production. The cloud is also a platform for creative and innovative OTT and linear production teams.

Sports technology and the increase of data have already combined to improve athlete performance. TV producers know that viewers want to be closer to the action and that means providing more information to create better experiences. Viewers are data hungry.

Cloud-hosted services using artificial intelligence (AI) image recognition and 'Big Data' analytics have already started to supply this depth of data to broadcasters. But other advantages of the cloud may be less obvious. Away for the high-profile marquee events such as the 100m sprint, the OBS Cloud will also be behind the scenes for broadcast production of the 33 different sports being contested by the world’s top athletes in Tokyo in 2020.

These range from original modern Olympic sports such as aquatics and gymnastics, to the five new sports for 2020, including sport climbing and skateboarding. It is here that many long-term benefits for sports broadcasters and event organisers also lie.

The long game

In TV terms, some sports are global, but all sports are local. To date, this has meant that when it came to broadcasting live events, it was only those sports with large audiences and the associated revenue they brought that could justify the intensive infrastructure investment required.

Cloud-based ecosystems of broadcasters, media and event organisers expand the ability to broadcast live sporting events that were previously not possible due to huge infrastructure and labour costs. The cloud changes the economics for broadcasters as live coverage for more smaller-scale events becomes achievable.

Alibaba Cloud is building an open environment for broadcast and event partners which is revolutionising remote broadcast planning, infrastructure, economics and delivery.

Considered in the context of how to deliver something as important and at the scale of the Olympic Games, it is evident why broadcast leaders are exploring what cloud solutions can provide in broadcast technology terms across the content production and delivery chain.

The OBS Cloud will change how broadcasters may create memorable experiences for the global Olympic TV audience, while Alibaba Cloud is creating a platform to help distribute more live sports to all fans at a global and local level.