Tokyo Olympics: Can technology make up for the absence of fans?

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Tokyo (AFP)

With the official opening of the Olympic Games in Tokyo on Friday behind closed doors almost completely due to the Corona epidemic, viewers will be more dependent than ever on the development of broadcasting technologies to be able to live the event.

After the Games were postponed for a year due to the pandemic, “we pledged not to reduce the capacity and quality of our coverage,” said Yannis Exarchus, CEO of OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Services), which has been responsible for filming and broadcasting all Olympic competitions since 2008.

Olympic broadcasting has come a long way since the first television trials in Berlin in 1936, with three cameras capturing footage of an audience a few miles away.

But during the current Olympics, the OBS teams are preparing to shoot about 9,500 hours of footage, 30 percent more than in Rio 2016, and it will be available to television channels around the world after it acquired the broadcasting rights. So it promises viewers a unique experience through various technological innovations.

Among those innovations, Exarchus cites “3D tracking” of the athlete, a system that combines scenes from several cameras using artificial intelligence to be able to see the movements of athletes from different angles.

“After a few seconds into the 100m, you can recreate the entire race in 3D and for example determine the athletes’ peak speed, which is a good way for viewers behind the scenes to see these great performances,” Exarchus explains.

– Recording crowd noise –

For the first time, the games will be fully filmed and made available to the channels in 4K resolution, and Japanese viewers with more advanced TVs will be able to watch some of the competitions in 8K resolution, which is four times higher than that used by the world-leading Japanese channel NHK. in this field since 1995.

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“One of the strengths of 8K is that it displays the motion details of objects on the screen in an unparalleled way,” explains Takayuki Yamashita of NHK Technology Research Center, referring in particular to the high-quality slow motion through recently developed cameras.

But France Television’s director of sports, Laurent-Eric Le Lay, considered that “the race should not be on display”, before invoking the modernity of the channel for these games, a virtual reality platform on Tokyo Bay.

He noted that “a virtual glass bubble will be created, with a decor showing in the background the most beautiful buildings in Tokyo. There will be a lot of work to bring this platform to life.”

To compensate for the absence of fans in stadiums, OBS has created audio recordings of crowd noise at previous games to adapt it to each sport, and will be broadcast at the competition venues.

Athletes will also be able to receive encouragement, hear cheers on screens of video (selfies) sent from all over the world, and communicate by video with loved ones once their competitions are over.

– ‘In the service of storytelling’ –

Strict sanitary measures have forced national carriers, for which OBS provides broadcast service, to send fewer employees to Japan, to do part of the technical work, such as production, from their countries.

By improving its system like most carriers, France Television sent 180 employees to Tokyo, compared to 210 during the 2016 Rio Olympics, a change made possible by OBS’ reliance on IP (Internet Protocol) and Cloud (cloud) technologies. ), allowing remote file processing.

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But “it is very important for us to have part of the team stay on the site, especially the editorial side and comment on the competitions,” says Le Lai, who pointed to the dispatch of more than thirty journalists and about forty sports consultants.

French athletes will be interviewed in Japan, according to Le Lay, who notes that “it is important for French viewers to be there, rather than to be in Paris with a Skype that is poorly framed for the athletes.”

For his part, Exarchus says, “Technology should be at the service of storytelling. This is one of our key phrases: We love technology, but it should be used to tell the stories of the best athletes in the world.”

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