The 2014 Winter Olympics mark a new era for Olympic Broadcasting Services, the permanent Host Broadcast organization created by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) created in 2001. Manolo Romero, the pioneer of Olympic host broadcasting, is now vice chairman of OBS, and the responsibilities of CEO fall on the shoulders of Yiannis Exarchos. Born in Athens in 1964, he has served as a top executive for all Olympic Host Broadcasters since the Athens Games in 2004. In 2008, he moved from Beijing to join the OBS team in a more day-to-day role in Madrid.
SVG’s Ken Kerschbaumer was able to sit down with Exarchos and discuss this year’s Games, the transition within OBS, and the technologies that will define the organization’s future.
Having been here for the past couple of weeks, I have to say that the operations of the Olympics, in terms of getting between venues and here in the IBC, seem to be going almost as well as I have seen at any Olympics. And I hear similar things from a lot of the broadcasters. Can you talk about the past few months, ramping up for the Games because I know there were a lot of logistical issues to overcome.
There was a tremendous amount of progress, and I think this came about as soon as the top political leaders came into play and made decisions that made things happen. Clearly, there were a few things in the last month that came up, and, last summer, it became clear that some things like the preparation of the hotels would be late because it’s one thing to build a building and another thing to create a service. And there were not a lot of local resources to bring those up to the level expected like if we were in London or a major city.
As for the delivery of the IBC, this building is huge and very complicated, and there were some delays in delivery and leaking in places that made us worried. And that is why we also took measures ourselves to address the problems. So we advanced a lot of personnel, did construction faster, and gave it more resources. And I think we made it work in time for when the broadcasters started arriving.
And yes, while Vancouver’s IBC was very beautiful; in terms of servicing broadcaster needs, this is actually better.
And in terms of the production, I think we are satisfied because these Games are complex and we tried a lot of new things that carry through our direction, particularly on the digital level of the production.
For example, the launch of our Olympic Video Player was something we originally envisioned launching in 2016 at the Rio Summer Olympics. But, 10 months ago, we got so excited that we said, let’s try it in Sochi as the Games are smaller and it would be a good testing ground. Overall, we are very satisfied with the way it works, and we also found some interesting applications. For Finnish TV, it has gone viral and is the thing in Finland right now.
And the OVP is also important because it has allowed the IOC and us to broadcast the Winter Games in territories that have never experienced the Winter Olympics. The whole of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and the Arab world are all experiencing it so these are the first universal Winter Olympics.
Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, still has issues with distribution of the Summer Games because of the financial conditions and so on. But, in those countries, they are leapfrogging and going direct to mobile devices and never having traditional broadcasting. And [the Olympic Video Player] is the way to penetrate and develop familiarity with the Olympics in those areas.
That must be satisfying to finally accomplish that.
For me, it’s the greatest reward. It’s very moving when you see people in Tanzania and what they are watching. And, in the Arab world, countries like the United Emirates and Saudi Arabia are seeing a lot of traffic. And users cover the whole spectrum, from the new ones [in those countries] to the power users in Finland. At the time of the Rio Olympics, we will probably look back on this as if it is an archeological relic [laughs].
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