Going for the Gold: Producing the Olympics

Featuring an exclusive interview with Jay Chaney, Vice President, Professional Services for Sony

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Is it just me, or does it seem like the Summer Olympics just happened yesterday? In reality, the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will be in Pyeongchang, South Korea, are right around the corner. Now more than ever, there is an ever-increasing demand for complete Olympic coverage on every delivery platform. Technical logistics and planning along with perfect execution are taking on a whole new meaning. HD and 4K HDR?

(Is 8K or more lurking in the production chain somewhere too? Pure speculation on my part.) Why not? I know, a lot to get through. But before we dig too deep, let's stop long enough to ponder a few facts, set the scene for the 2018 Olympics and look at a primer about the structure of broadcasting (and more).

Some Quick Facts

Where: Pyeongchang, South Korea (6854 miles from NYC) Wow!

When: February 8 – February 25, 2018

Number of sports: 15

Number of events: 102

Number of Venues: 13 plus the Olympic Stadium

Countries represented: 84 plus!

The Primer

The IOC is the owner of the global broadcast rights for the Olympic Games – including broadcasts on television, radio, mobile and internet platforms – and is responsible for allocating Olympic broadcast rights to media companies throughout the world through the negotiation of rights agreements. The IOC’s broadcast policy is fundamentally based on the Olympic Charter, which is the codification of the Fundamental Principles, Rules and by-laws adopted by the IOC.

The Charter states:
"The IOC takes all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games."

Olympic Broadcasting Services

OBS is responsible for providing the international television and radio signals from the Games to all rights-holding broadcasters around the world. The IOC established Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) in 2001 to serve as the permanent host broadcaster for the Olympic Games, eliminating the need to continually rebuild the broadcast operation for each edition of the Games. OBS ensures that the high standards of Olympic broadcasting are consistently maintained from one edition of the Games to the next.

Let the Games Begin!

Just think of the staggering logistics that the International Broadcast Center will have to deal with as it provides thousands of feeds to hundreds of countries throughout the world.

Yes, I said thousands. (Check out the list of broadcasters at the end of the article). Being responsible for providing all of the feeds that go out to the broadcasters, cablecasters, streamers and satellite entities is a huge undertaking. Many of the broadcasters have their own facilities that broadcast there own original material.

Companies, such as Discovery, are rights holders for many European countries branded as Eurosport, except Russia and NBCUniversal, who are rights holders for the United States. Then those companies can put their own wrap on the games and retransmit to their own respective viewers. Imagine the resources and the work it will take to provide thousands of hours of coverage. Interestingly enough, for the first time NBC is going with LIVE coverage (broadcast and streamed) and foregoing tape-delayed broadcasts. Personally being a live truck guy from another lifetime, I think that's a huge deal.

Think about the scale of productions. Normally a professional football game might have 20 to 30 “normal” cameras. Of course with the Super Bowl, there are 70 or more. Just don't forget to add in all of the special high-speed cameras and GoPros and all of the DSLRs floating around too. This time we are talking about covering more than 13 venues and 102 events. That number does not include all the before and after either. There will easily be thousands of cameras and hundreds of production trucks both big and small. So now you know why it takes years to get this epic production up and running.

By the way, do not think of audio as any less important. I have been told by a reliable source that audio for the 2018 Olympic Games is going to be nothing short of spectacular. I love great audio but will have to save that for next time!

Now, think of the amount of people involved. Can you say thousands of broadcast professionals? It takes a lot of pros to make the Olympics happen for television and just about every other media delivery platform you can think of. This production is so big that there are special training classes on how to work at the Olympics. Not kidding. But let’s get going and start by looking at the coverage NBCUniversal will present. More than 2,400 hours of coverage of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games. NBC’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Games begins in primetime on Thursday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m. ET – one night before Opening Ceremony coverage on Friday, Feb. 9 – and continues until the Closing Ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25.  That is a lot of coverage. But here comes the fun part of technology.

NBCUniversal will also be offering coverage of Olympic activities during the Pyeongchang, South Korea games in the new 4K High Dynamic Range higher-definition format.

“The Olympics has always been a platform for the introduction of new broadcast technology”, said Gary Zenkel, President of NBC Olympics. “The availability of 4K High Dynamic Range coverage of Olympic ceremonies and competitions through our participating multi-channel distribution partners, will be a great showcase for this emerging advancement in the quality of televised sports coverage in the United States.” NBC Olympics will distribute the 4K HDR coverage, provided by Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) and Japan’s NHK, to U.S. distribution partners who will individually choose how they will make the content available to their customers.

The 4K coverage will be available on delay and will include footage from the Opening Ceremony, hockey, figure skating, short track speed skating, ski jumping and snowboard competitions. Up to four event from the previous day’s competition will be available in 4K.

“This is yet another first at an Olympic Games, and OBS is proud to continually provide and facilitate the very latest technology to its broadcast partners,” said Yiannis Exarchos, CEO, Olympic Broadcasting Services. “The performances of the best athletes in the World deserve to be captured with the best broadcast technology available.”

How Does It All Look At Home?

Some of the real excitement not only comes from the venues, but also the work that was put in to create unique and original studio set designs and work spaces as described by Michael Sheehan, Coordinating Director, NBC Olympics.

NBC’s primetime, daytime and late night studios for the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, which will be located inside and on the rooftop of the International Broadcast Center in the Taebaek Mountains of Pyeongchang, South Korea, will originate from NBC Olympics’ state-of-the-art, 3,500 square-foot geodesic dome set.

Featuring a 40-foot by 16-foot LED wall, complemented by 18 55-inch high-definition monitors, the studio provides space for a main anchor desk, interview areas, a news update desk, and more than 15 different stand up locations for host Mike Tirico. In addition, on the rooftop of the International Broadcast Center, NBC Olympics will have a 1,000 square-foot winter lodge set with windows overlooking the ski jumping venue at Alpensia Ski Resort and the panoramic views of the Taebaek Mountains.

“Our collection of studios for the Pyeongchang Olympics is by far the most complex and challenging ever conceived for NBC Olympics’ coverage of a Winter Games,” said Michael Sheehan, Coordinating Director, NBC Olympics. “Highlighted by our 3,500 square foot geodesic dome studio, the state-of-the-art design and technology. featured will help us capture the thrilling drama of the Winter Olympics, and showcase the incredible natural beauty of South Korea.” NBC Olympics will use a total of 13 studio sets for coverage of the 2018 Winter Games across NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA Network, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app.

NBCSN’s coverage each day will originate from the network’s studio in the Gangneung Coastal Cluster at Olympic Park, the site of figure skating, hockey, speed skating, and curling competitions.

The Man Behind the Curtain

So let me let you in on a little known production secret. Ok, not that big of a secret. Every great production has “that guy.” You know, that go to person that's the "engineering whisperer." You know, when things like cameras or switchers get out of sorts or just funky, or just plain quit you can turn and casually or in a panic say “Hey is my camera supposed to be green?” I had ‘that guy’ in my truck. Worth every dollar and more. If he is reading this you know who you are! Anyways before I go on I got to talk to one of those whisperer ”guys” Jay Chaney, Vice President, Professional Services for Sony just prior to taking off for the 2018 Winter Olympics and got some of his thoughts. Oh yeah we had a few laughs too. Gotta have a sense of humor in this business right?

ProductionHUB: So Jay tell us a little bit about the role Sony is playing?

Jay: Sony will be at the Games in South Korea and in Stamford, Connecticut to provide technical support to NBC for our products such as cameras, switchers and replay systems for the 2018 Games. Our support domain include the IBC, all the remote venues and studios to make sure they are good to go whether it is in the studio or heading out the door as part of a field package. We also play a role in the support of any OB Vans NBC may have contracted to support venues.

ProductionHUB: Can you tell us about your background?

Jay: I have been with Sony for about 28 years working in pre and post-sales support and this is my 10th Games. Outside my normal position as head of Service at Sony, my role is the Olympic Support Manager. Working with the Sony NBC account manager, marketing, procurement and our colleagues in Japan we collaborate with NBC Engineering on an equipment list to meet their design and workflow concept, vet proper configurations and ensure timelines for shipping product and support equipment.

My role is the point of contact for all things related to support for NBC Engineering. Create, manage the support staff for in-country and at-home obligations and communicate all logistics between NBC and support staff. The Sony team and I work directly with NBC Engineering and our integration engineers on the support effort and pre-Games engineering testing. We manage and assist in the stand-up of all Sony and Sony associated equipment and process at the International Broadcast Center and NBC venues in the country and at home.

ProductionHUB: So, you are pretty new to this?

Jay: Laughs.

ProductionHUB: How have things gone so far as compared to your last Olympics?

Jay: Knock on wood - This one seems smoother. We (Sony) have a seasoned group of support engineers from Sony Professional Services (SPS) and journeyman integration engineers from the Sony Solution Services Group (SSG) about 9-10 total on the ground already in Pyeongchang and others for technical support @home. Our support team is made up of specialists with years of tacit knowledge allowing for tremendous overlap in expertise. So it is a total group effort from start to finish. Whatever it takes – we will do it. Also as compared to the last games (Rio) it has been consistently below freezing every day. (laughs)

ProductionHUB: How would you describe your working relationship with NBC?

Jay: NBC is an excellent partner and we have a very good working relationship with them. We have been working together for some time on the Games and various projects and we work well together as a team. We hold each other to a very high standard and the results are very clear.  

ProductionHUB: Do you have a specific technical role?

Jay: Olympics Support Manager. 

ProductionHUB: Anything else that we missed or you want to mention?

Jay: I am confident that we are going to provide great technical support to NBC for the Games and we are extremely proud to be a part of the effort.  Sony supports NBC for the Games in the host country and @home, and we also provide Global Support for all Sony customers through our Sony Global Support team located in Korea. Sony has been providing Games support for over 30 years to our customers.

Stream Away, Stream Away, Stream Away Home!

NBC Olympics says it will live stream 1,800 hours of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games from Pyeongchang, South Korea this February. PyeongChang will be the first Winter Games to offer live streaming of the NBC broadcast network, including primetime and primetime-plus programming.

Digital coverage will include live streaming of all competition on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app across desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs for authenticated users; TV simul-stream coverage of five television networks; streaming on connected TVs, and an enhanced viewing experience for select sports.

Lastly, Has The Future Arrived?

Powered by Intel True VR, the live coverage of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games from Pyeongchang, South Korea, will be available to authenticated viewers with Windows Mixed Reality headsets, Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream with compatible iOS and Android devices. Intel True VR technology relies on pods at each event to create interactive 360-degree VR environments. Authenticated VR viewers can access that content via the NBC Sports VR app. Once in the VR environment, they can change their vantage points, listen to natural sound captured at each camera location, look at real-time stats and leaderboards, and view post-event results. They also can fly through the VR Olympic world, tour Winter Games venues and visit different parts of the Korean peninsula, NBC Olympics said.

The network says this year’s games mark the first time VR has ever been available for Winter Olympic coverage. Olympic Broadcasting Services will supply NBC Olympics with the live VR programming. Live VR coverage will include the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, alpine skiing, curling, snowboarding, skeleton, figure skating, short track, ski jumping, ice hockey and big air.

Besides the live VR coverage, NBC Olympics will provide VR replays of all previously live-streamed events, a daily 360-degree video of a sport not available in VR the previous day and packaged daily highlights from the day before. VR viewers will also have access to content prior to the beginning of the Winter Olympics.

A Little Note to Wrap Things Up

I am really excited to see how this will all play out. So much Olympic content and new and exciting ways to watch it all. I am also convinced that there will be more behind the scenes news to come once the games have concluded, so make sure you check back often! 

About the Writer

Mark J. Foley, MBA BA is an award winning producer and director and the Technology Editor for ProductionHUB.com. He is also on a mission to provide the best in new equipment reviews, along with exclusive analysis and interviews with the best, the brightest and most creative minds in the entertainment and production business. Have a suggestion for a review? Mark can be reached at mfoley@productionhub.com.

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