Rio 2016 is the fifth Olympic Games adventure I have been involved with since I started working for deltatre. It all began with NBC for Beijing 2008, and we are now providing services to eight broadcasters for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Talking about “doing the Olympics” with relatives and friends is always a challenging task – they immediately think we work for the Organizing Committee or for the Federation itself, but this is almost never the case. Very rarely we send people to the venue, and we provide 99% of the services from Turin.
Our “Olympic Games work” is related to broadcasters, what in jargon we call RHB (Rights Holding Broadcasters), and it’s about empowering them on digital platforms.
The business model may seem quite complicated, but is in fact very simple:
- The IOC (International Olympic Committee) sells media rights worldwide
- For each country, or region, a broadcaster (or a consortium of broadcasters) buys the rights
- We sell our digital solution worldwide to help broadcasters activating on digital properties, for the Olympic Games
What is our digital solution?
To put it very simply, we do two main things:
- We process live results, and display them in real time on all platforms
- We process live video for all the events, and we stream it on all platforms
Why do broadcasters come to us?
Now, I can hear you asking: top level broadcasters do this already every day, on their own. Why on earth should they look at deltatre to do the Olympic Games?
There are two simple answers to this question: live management and scale.
Nearly everybody can do websites nowadays. The typical joke we have at deltatre is “My nephew can do this website in one day with FrontPage”. Where is the challenge, then?
In sport properties, the challenge is managing live competitions.
“Live” brings complexities: ingesting results feeds, processing them in real time, displaying them in a timely and accurate manner, managing traffic peaks.
Traffic is an interesting one, since in sport it is very common to go from a few hundreds to many thousands of concurrent users (sometimes, hundreds of thousands) in a very short timeframe. Writing software which can manage and operate live events in sport is not an easy task, and having the knowledge, the skills and the dedication to do so is even less common.
Our customers are used to managing live sport in their day-by-day business: many of them cover football, Formula 1, Moto GP, etc. When it comes to the Olympic Games, though, their real concern is scale. The Olympic Games, summer Olympic Games in particular, are a different order of magnitude when it comes to managing simultaneous events.
A picture tells a thousand words, and the picture above shows the schedule of Rio 2016 Day 1. August 5th is a day which many people working at deltatre will not easily forget… Up to 30 concurrent events with around 20 disciplines happening at the same time. It feels like a tsunami slowly coming towards you.
So this is why broadcasters come to deltatre. Because they do not have enough in-house capacity (resources, experience, skills) to manage a project of a completely different scale, which only happens every 2 years (considering summer and winter).
What are we delivering to our customers?
It depends from customer to customer. The full package includes full video workflow, an Olympic Games minisite, featuring editorial and results, and mobile applications. Not all the broadcasters buy the full package, though. Some only get the results minisite, some get everything but the video, etc.
We have managed during Rio 2016 full end-to-end video workflow for four customers around the world. To provide an idea of the scale, we have been managing – every Olympic Games day – more than 150 live channels combined. Every customer has managed the schedule of the video sessions independently, through a scheduling tool provided by deltatre.
The tool lets broadcasters easily create video sessions which are also automatically recorded and offered as catch up. Offering video in catch-up mode is particularly important for the Rio Olympic Games, since time zone is an issue. Most important races are during the night in Europe and Asia, therefore the ability for fans to relive the races the day after is a key feature.
As a matter of fact, from our analytics we see a much higher interaction with Full Event Replays videos during these Olympic Games compared with a “normal time-zone” catch up service.
Going to the front end, deltatre’s video player, Diva, provides a fantastic and immersive experience to the fans, by providing interactive data synchronised with high quality video. Fans can watch live events and get more info about the current event such as in-match statistics, team roasters, etc. by activating the data overlays.
We try as much as possible to provide contextual information which goes beyond what is usually provided by the TV Graphics. For example, live statistics for a match, or the overall standings for the qualifying heats, etc.
The contextual information is also available for the full event replay in catch up mode, of course. Diva also adds timeline markers for relevant moments in the race, such as the start time, goals, start of the sets, etc. so that fans can easily navigate from one moment to another in the video, without the need to manually browse the full video session.
At deltatre we strongly believe in the power of data to enhance the viewing experience. It is about providing more information to the fans, presented in a compelling and visual appealing way, to engage the fans.
Fan engagement is particularly important for the Olympic Games, since many sports are not known to the general public. Providing additional info teases the fans’ curiosity, getting them closer to the sport not only once every four years, but in their everyday life, shifting people from being passive fans to actively practicing the sport.
This is what makes the Olympic Games so special compared to other sporting events: it is a source of inspiration for millions of people around the world.
Of course our Diva video platform includes VOD capabilities, allowing broadcasters to upload their own clips, as well as cutting clips on the fly through our unique Subclip Tool and posting them in near real time on the site and apps.
It is amazing seeing the traffic peaks generated when a gold medal push notification is sent, with literally thousands and thousands of users opening their apps and watching the gold medal clips, just a few minutes after the event is over.
The non-video part of our solution is dominated by the results section. For every Olympic Games sport, we provide full competition coverage, at an Olympic Games level. Live.
Every score, every game, every medal is featured on all platforms. deltatre provides an immersive coverage of every discipline, including play by play for live matches, so that all Olympic Games’ fans who do not have access to video can still enjoy the thrill of a medal race. Live.
As a complement to live results, deltatre provides broadcasters a live-blogging tool which allows them to post real time editorial updates, including curated social content and including special results widgets, integrated with our results platform.
How did we put all together?
The whole Olympic Games Program for Rio 2016 took some thousands of man-days of work. Yes, you got it right – something like tenth of years of work if a single person had to do it all by him/herself.
The project started in 2014 and grew in terms of number of resources involved, reaching over 40 people involved in the last few months before the Olympic Games.
The work included everything from creating the results pages, setting up the video workflow for every single customer, preparing the games-time operations and of course, developing the minisites and mobile applications.
It is not an easy task to manage projects of these proportions, and it is not an easy task to manage the three “souls” of a project like this: commercial, product and technology. We had in front of us a complex challenge, but in the end I have to say the whole process was handled with great dedication and professionalism.
How do we operate?
Let’s now turn to Olympic Games Time Operations, which is – especially during the first week – pure adrenaline.
It’s kind of the Rock and Roll of IT nerds, so to speak. The funny thing about the Olympic Games is that you don’t really see it coming until the very end…
Up until a few days before the event starts, the websites are almost “empty”, apps have just been released in the stores, and you question yourself “is this really what I’ve been working on for the last year and a half?”
Then, suddenly, the lights are on – and it’s overwhelming. You are under the spotlight, the amount of data, editorial content and video which are published is simply amazing. It is a great feeling of being part of something that big… with the unfortunate sensation that if something goes wrong then the same positive feeling can switch into pure frustration.
How does a typical event day flow? How many people are involved? What do they do?
First of all, we work in shifts. Every shift has a supervisor, and every project has a reference person – per shift – communicating with the customer. The operations are split into different streams:
- Results: we have resources constantly monitoring and operating results ingestion and processing through deltatre ORP (Olympic Results Platform). This is the core of our solution so it is of the utmost importance that everything flows smoothly. The results platform processes the so-called ODF (Olympic Data Feeds), which are XML messages coming straight from Rio. To be more precise, we ingest BDF (Broadcast Data Feeds) which is an ODF specialization, adding video information to the ODF set of messages. This is very important for us to be able to easily associate which result feed can be associated to which video stream.
- Video: the other big part is the video operations, which consists of making sure all the scheduled streams start according to the predefined schedule, that the video cloud infrastructure is running smoothly (we work with Microsoft Azure Media Services), and that the playback of live and VOD video works on all platforms. We use internal and external monitoring tools to constantly monitor the video streams, including real-time monitoring tools like Akamai Media Analytics to determine in advance if there are problems with the video delivery in each country we work with.
- Web Operations: the web team takes care of the web rendering for the minisite and for the mobile apps API. They work on deltatre’s CMS – called Forge – to build the web pages and feeds.
- Mobile: the mobile team works in close conjunction with the web operations and video teams to deliver the Olympic Games experience on mobile platforms. The main tasks, during Olympic Games operations, are to track potential issues and solve them either through feeds changes, or to aggregate everything into a new app release if necessary.
- IT: the SysApp team constantly monitors the health of the hosting infrastructure, including configuration of Content Delivery Networks (CDN) used to distribute web and video content more effectively to all our customers.
- Monitoring: last but not least, we have a team of people actively monitoring our customers’ digital properties. This is a service we provide in order to be as proactive as possible in spotting potential issues (particularly around video) and solve them in the shortest possible timeframe.
Logistically, it was not a simple setup as well. It may seem obvious, but all these people need to work as close as possible, in order to make communication fast and effective. When there are problems – and during the Olympic Games there are problems – the difference is often made by very simple things like having people working better and closer.
So we decided to sit all the people – 40 human beings working in two shifts – on the same floor, in communicating rooms. We organized plant layouts so that the different operational streams could be grouped, we organized night shifts, providing rest days whenever possible to all the people involved.
Do all these people eat? Of course they do! So here we come with catering provided twice a day to all resources involved, we also provisioned extra microwave ovens and fridges to store food. Needless to say, we also organized extra cleaning for the spaces as well as for the… restrooms.
I have to thank all the people involved not only with building our Olympic Games proposition, but also helping us manage the logistics, which – as you can imagine – are extremely complex.
As I wrote before, this is my fifth Olympic Games experience. Every time, during the first two days, I tell myself “no way, this is my last one – I have had enough of this stuff”. Then, as the days roll on, I start realizing the incredible set of services deltatre puts together, in an extremely complex environment. I also realise the incredible blend of positive sensations which come by working with an amazing team – a mix of positive attitude, team spirit and camaraderie which glues everything together. Then, at the end of the second week of the Olympic Games, you have already forgotten everything and start thinking about what we should improve for the next one…