Few events capture the collective world attention like the biennial Olympic Games. In an Olympic year the 16 days of the Games are one of the calendar’s top scheduled broadcasts – with 3.6 billion people, nearly half of the global population, tuning in for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero.
The built-in audience and appetite for multimedia storytelling has made the Olympics a virtual playground for broadcasters looking to create more immersive experiences for the fans at home. This year’s Games will be no exception – transformative technologies that are reshaping the way viewers consume visual media today will be front and center at the upcoming Winter Games in Pyeongchang. In fact, NBC has already announced that it will be broadcasting over 50 hours of live virtual reality (VR) Olympic coverage to its U.S. Pay-TV subscribers – officially signaling VR’s arrival as the evolution of fan engagement. The population of consumers with the proper equipment to access the coverage remains in the early adopter stage – but this marks the first time VR coverage will be available to consumers at the Olympics, and broadcasters clearly see VR as a way to experience an already immersive experience in the years to come. The limited pool of viewers is an excellent sample size to gauge feedback, allowing broadcasters to refine their strategies before the 2020 Olympics when VR headsets will have hit the mainstream.
Unlike almost any other type of television programming, live sports is the last bastion of appointment television, watched in real-time, often on a large screen. But live content viewing, even sports, is quickly leaving the boundaries of the home and going to wherever viewers happen to be and on whatever device they have at hand – or soon, on their face!
The personalized, mobile sports experience will continue to be enhanced and become more granular, particularly as sports leagues and networks continue to invest in direct-to consumer, companion apps to bring fans closer to not just teams, but to individual athletes and their stories. In fact, the official IOC app will offer the ability to track favorite athletes and their scores, relive highlight moments and find results and records for all sports, athletes and Games.
The opportunity to evolve the app to deliver a new dimension of sports experience cannot be overlooked. Apps make the consumer the producer and director of their own content giving them the power to create their own coverage or broadcast – an approach that has already proven popular in certain industries. Advanced features such as vantage point options or customizable screens with bios and advanced metrics will turn up the personalization factor even further.
Beyond the Olympics, sports networks like ESPN and Fox Sports have already created an abundance of overlays, stats and scores to try and make each weekly live sports broadcast even more informative. Many Pay-TV providers are extending their traditional set-top box infrastructure to include specialized apps that can be more interactive on the TV as well as the mobile phone. Premium sports networks are introducing their own apps as a second or sometimes primary screen so that fans can get up-to-the-minute information for everything they care about.
As the mediums through which we enjoy sports evolve, so will consumer expectations. Today’s demand for individualized, digital viewing is fundamentally different from the packed stadiums of the first modern Olympic Games of 1896 in many ways – but similar in the fact that the fans appetite for sports content is ever growing. The opportunity for broadcasting networks, however, is significant. Technologies like companion apps and VR, powered by the unparalleled infrastructure of first-class broadcasters, are primed to fundamentally change how we experience the Olympic Games through 2018 and beyond.