It may be Brazil’s largest and most powerful media conglomerate but never before has Grupo Globo faced an operational challenge of such magnitude. The Rio 2016 Olympic Games is set to be the biggest media event in history and it falls to TV Globo, as the lead domestic broadcaster, to deliver Brazil’s greatest ever sporting spectacle to the homes of an expectant host nation.
By Michael Long
When it comes to broadcasting an Olympic Games, the scale of the task is as vast as the numbers are mind-boggling. This August in Rio de Janeiro, 306 events spanning 42 sport disciplines will take place across 32 competition venues in the space of just 16 days while more than 7,000 hours of video and audio coverage will be produced and distributed to a potential audience of six billion people in 220 countries. Needless to say, there is no more complex and far-reaching broadcast operation in world sport.
Every four years, however, the Olympic broadcasting challenge is miraculously pulled off. Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) in-house media production and distribution arm, orchestrates the entire operation but it is the responsibility of the assembled rights holding broadcasters (RHBs) to transmit the pictures to the eyes of the watching world in real time. In Brazil, that responsibility falls to TV Globo.
When the opening ceremony lifts the curtain on this summer’s Games on 5th August, tens of millions of Brazilians will tune in to watch the festivities on what is by far the host nation’s largest broadcast network. Globo’s journey towards Rio 2016 began in earnest in August 2009, shortly before the Games were awarded to Brazil for the first time. The company, which aired its first Olympics in 1992, secured the domestic rights to the event as the head of a consortium that also included two other Brazilian media companies, Rede Bandeirantes and Rede Record. Together, the three networks agreed to fork out a reported US$150 million for the rights to Rio 2016 and also Sochi 2014, plus a further US$40 million in media promotional packages.
The fee represented a massive increase on Rede Record’s previous exclusive deal, which covered the Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 editions and was worth US$60 million. In dwarfing that agreement, the fee was a clear validation of the burgeoning strength of Brazil’s economy at the time and an affirmation of the country’s status as a leading sports media market. Yet for Globo, it was in many ways a small price to pay.
Founded in 1965, the station is the largest commercial television network in Latin America and the second-largest in the world behind America’s ABC in terms of annual revenues. Part of Grupo Globo, a family-owned media empire that comprises more than 80 different companies spanning TV, magazines, radio, film production and newspapers, it employs around 19,000 people and maintains a monopolistic stranglehold on the Brazilian media market, covering 99.7 per cent of the country’s 198 million population through its network of 123 affiliates. But even for a corporate behemoth that has been described by The Economist as ‘Brazil’s most powerful company’, wresting back perhaps the most prestigious rights in sport from the hands of its nearest competitor was imperative, even if that competitor does only command a market share of a little over ten per cent.
Globo’s Rio 2016 by the numbers:
- 160 hours+ on TV Globo
- Over 4,000 hours on SporTV
- 2,000+ technical workforce
- 30+ pundit ‘dream team’
With its domestic rights safely in the bag, Globo stepped up its commitment to Rio 2016 by striking a deal, in June of last year, to serve as the official media sponsor of the Games. That agreement would see four media entities within the group – the Globo network, Globosat, Infoglobo and Sistema Globo de Rádio – develop marketing and promotional activities designed to maximise exposure in the lead-up to and during the event. For the past 12 months, the group’s communications have been built around its ‘We are all Olympic’ campaign in a bid to drum up support within the host country.
Under the terms of its contract with the IOC – which, incidentally, was extended in December to include every Games until 2032 – Globo is obliged to broadcast a minimum of nine hours of free-to-air coverage per day. It will, however, show at least ten hours each day as well as a suite of comprehensive programming across its cable, video-on-demand and online services.
TV Globo, the broadcaster’s free-to-air offering, will carry a total of 160 hours of content throughout the Games fortnight, more than 100 hours of which will be shown live and in prime time. SportTV, Globo’s cable sports offering which has around 20 million subscribers, will meanwhile show nothing but Olympics coverage during the Games. Action from every competition will be aired live across its family of 16 high-definition TV channels and a further 40 online, with over 4,000 hours of coverage to be shown over the course of the event. A round-the-clock VOD service, SporTV Play, and a dedicated app, SporTV Rio 2016, will round out the coverage free-of-charge while Balada Olímpica, a TV programme produced specially for the Games, will combine music, entertainment and highlights of the day’s action.
Generating such a wealth of programming output requires formidable manpower and, just as it did two years ago for the 2014 Fifa World Cup, Globo is throwing everything at Rio 2016.
During the Games, the company’s technical workforce will swell to an army of more than 2,000 individuals. To ensure logistical efficiency and mobility, the team will be split into two groups. One group will be positioned at Globo’s headquarters in Rio’s Jardim Botânico, tasked with covering competitions in the Maracanã cluster, on the city’s south side, and the Deodoro Olympic Park, on the city’s west side. The other group will be based out of a newsroom situated inside the International Broadcast Centre (IBC), a 68,000m² smorgasbord of editing stations, meeting rooms and technical equipment that will house the thousands of reporters, cameramen, producers and commentators covering the Games. That group will be charged with covering competitions at the Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca, and the Engenhão, on the city’s north side.
While its technical staff beavers away behind the scenes, Globo’s public-facing operation will take pride of place inside its Olympic Studio facility positioned at the heart of the Olympic Park. Constructed almost entirely out of glass, the 500m², three-floored facility will be the setting for the many Games-time news shows and on-air interviews viewers will see on screen. The SportTV studios will be located on the first floor while Globo will transmit terrestrial coverage from the second. The lower floor will be reserved for hosting guest activities and an interactive space.
Anchoring Globo’s coverage will be what the network is calling its ‘dream team’, comprising a dozen former stars of Brazilian sport including tennis legend Gustavo Kuerten, basketball great Hortência Marcari, and swimmer Gustavo Borges. The dream team will form part of a larger commentary troupe numbering more than 30 and which will include, among others, the retired soccer stars Ronaldo (left) and Juninho Pernambucano.
As ever, this Olympic Games will serve as a showcase for cutting-edge technology, and Globo plans to have a host of innovations on show. The ‘tactical table’, for example – a graphic that helps commentators explain an athlete or team’s strategy – will be integrated into much of the network’s live coverage. Created by Globo’s in-house research and development team, the table facilitates the reproduction of plays using augmented reality and miniature team displays, enabling anchors to analyse strategies and offer the viewer a greater understanding of what is happening on the field of play. The technology has already been used in Globo’s soccer coverage and, during the Games, it will be extended to basketball, handball, swimming and beach volleyball.
Globo has also partnered with Sony to create the world’s first 4K Mobile Unit with IP interconnectivity, which will be used to cover the volleyball competitions, while the company is teaming up with Japan’s NHK to provide live broadcasts in 8K. Those broadcasts will be shown at public viewings at the Museu do Amanhã in downtown Rio, and will include the opening and closing ceremonies.
What’s on show? Emerging technologies at Rio 2016
As host broadcaster for the Olympic Games, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) will produce and distribute more than 7,000 hours of video and audio coverage to Rio 2016’s rights holding broadcasters (RHBs). Standard OBS broadcast coverage will be produced in 1080iHD – by no means the highest picture quality but currently the most widely used format among networks around the world. There will, however, be a host of emerging technologies available.
OBS chief executive Yiannis Exarchos has said the Rio Games will be used as “an accelerated laboratory” for exploring some of the new technologies that will shape the future of sports broadcasting. So what’s on show?
8K Super High Vision and 4K
OBS will collaborate with Japanese broadcaster NHK to provide networks with live coverage of select events in 8K Super High Vision (SHV). The resolution of 8K is 16 times higher than that of high definition, and includes an immersive 3D 22.2 multichannel audio surround system. OBS plans to provide approximately 130 hours of 8K SHV coverage from the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the swimming, judo, athletics, basketball and soccer competitions, and a handful of ‘select sports at other venues’.
OBS will also provide coverage of the same events in 4K, with the footage to be ‘down-converted’ from the original 8K SHV feed. 4K delivers around eight million pixels in total, offering four times the resolution of HD.
Olympic Video Player (OVP)
The Olympic Video Player (OVP) is an advanced multi-platform video player, designed to better cater to the increasingly multi-device viewing behaviour of sports fans around the world. According to OBS, this second-screen offering will be enhanced at Rio 2016, providing more content and data for RHBs to use as part of their digital offerings. OBS says RHBs can take the OVP service as they wish, ‘either opting for a full end-to-end solution […] or adding their own videos, live commentaries, channels and other content’.
Virtual Reality (VR)
For the first time in Olympic Games broadcasting history, high-definition virtual reality (VR) is set to be provided to viewers across the globe. Following successful tests of a 180-degree VR experience at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, OBS will use Rio 2016 as a platform to further explore the capabilities of the technology, with several RHBs, including NBC in the US, having already confirmed their intention to provide VR coverage.
Using a compatible headset, viewers will be able to enjoy VR coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies and ‘one key event per day’. Olympic content will be available live through VR technologies, but also as VOD. Highlights of 360-degree video content will also be available, without the need for VR headsets.
OBS is also exploring the possibility of a limited experimental production in WCG/HDR, or wide colour gamut/high dynamic range. According to the OBS website, WCG/HDR displays a wider and richer range of colours, with much brighter whites and much deeper, darker blacks. Colours are said to be more natural and true-to-life, giving a more dynamic overall look and fell to the product on the screen.