Saturday, 15 July 2017 15:34

NBC’s Olympic Channel Ready To Go for Gold

Carriage in 35 million homes is only the beginning

Tomorrow at 6 a.m. ET, the Olympic Channel will become the latest sports network to hit the nation’s cable and satellite boxes. The new channel — the result of a partnership between NBCUniversal, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) — promises to give Olympic sports a more consistent presence among sports fans who typically tune in only every two years.

“To put it simply, the Olympic Games will now have a home between the Games being played,” says Mike Tirico, primetime host, NBC Olympics. “Those sports and those athletes will have a home where we can not only appreciate their talents but watch the best in the world continue to compete. The next generation come along.”

According to Gary Zenkel, president, NBC Olympics and Business, NBC Sports Group, the network will launch in more than 35 million homes.

“These platforms form a really powerful content-distribution system where we will bring, again, the great content of the three parties together and make it accessible to this broad U.S. audience as we lead into and lead out of each of the next seven-plus Olympic Games,” says Zenkel. “This is an exciting day for us.”

The programming strategy will be wide-ranging with an emphasis on live Summer and Winter Olympic Sports events and will also feature Olympic-themed original content produced by all three parties. Content will comprise original programs commissioned by the global Olympic Channel and produced by filmmakers from around the world, rich archival footage from the IOC and NBCU libraries of Olympic features and documentaries, and original Team USA programming produced by the USOC.

The opening weekend will be highlighted by coverage of the IAAF Diamond League this Sunday from Rabat, Morocco.

The IOC launched the Olympic Channel on the day of the Closing Ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Its technical operations are based at the OBS technical facility in Madrid, where control rooms and editing suites are used to produce a wealth of content from sports federations around the globe. The goal for the original channel is to give sports that may not have TV coverage a greater visibility around the globe and more relevance in the digital age.

But the launch of the Olympic Channel in the U.S. signals an important step forward for the service and its role in giving U.S. athletes greater visibility.

“When we launched the global digital Olympic Channel at the close of the Rio Games, we said that it was going to be an evolutionary product,” says Mark Parkman, GM of the IOC’s global Olympic Channel. “And Saturday is one of the major milestones of our evolution, when we come with a linear-channel launch in the USA in partnership with our wonderful partners, the NBC and Team USA, USOC organizations. This is the first step, which we think will continue to grow the Olympic Channel, its brand throughout the world, and it speaks volumes of the commitment that NBC and the USOC have in the Olympic movement.”

The Technical Side of Things
Much of the content will be produced by the Olympic Channel and NBCUniversal will leverage technical and production assets in Stamford, CT; Denver; and Englewood Cliffs, NJ, bringing content in from the Olympic Channel and preparing it for U.S. distribution. Tim Canary, VP, engineering, NBC Sports Group and NBC Olympics, says that the technical and production efforts have been coming together during the past six months and one of the anticipated changes will be a large increase in the amount of content that will originate in Denver.

“We were able to leverage our connectivity between Denver and Englewood Cliffs and use Evertz MPEG-4 encoders to get that content back and forth, We added two outbound lines from Denver and two return lines so they can see the master control return back in Denver,” he explains. “We can also get those outbound lines and see them in Stamford. If Denver wants to send us some content, we can see what they’re doing as well, which is very helpful.”

The ramp-up in Denver did not require much in the way of additional equipment with only a couple of updated ChyronHego Mosaic systems and an additional EVS XT3 server required. One key enhancement is that personnel in Denver can access Stamford’s asset-management system and transfer content using Aspera or FileCatalyst.

“It a lot of file movement of content for both live and archival content,” adds Canary.

Additional work in Denver included adding three AWS Elemental streaming encoders to complement three Ateme encoders. NBCUniversal also changed the network configuration to allow the encoders to transit existing connectivity to iStream Planet and have content sent over to the Olympic Channel in Madrid.

“This arrangement gives us more flexibility with our digital offering for the channel,” says Canary.

He adds that the team in Denver, largely the former Universal Sports team, is phenomenal at doing events and those skills have been an asset. Live event coverage will rely on everything from world feeds that can be voiced-over in the U.S. (primarily in Denver) to more-important events, where trucks or flypacks could be used to add unilateral enhancements to a world feed.

“There are some events coming up this month where we will deploy the NEWBERT remote-controlled flypack that is then connected to Control Room 8, our mostly IP-based control room,” says Canary. “Denver can also share to load with two-ways and other things. It’s certainly been busy but it’s going quite smoothly on the technology side.”

Philosophically, the launch of the Olympic Channel is an extension of an effort that sees the Stamford digital center as a hub for program creation on the NBC Network, NBC Sports Network, USA Network, and even MSNBC.

“The beauty of our facility in Englewood Cliffs is, if you have a commercial, it’s going to air across multiple channels,” says Canary. “They ingest the commercial once and can play it wherever. Having that arrow in our quiver has been a big help.”

A Difference Maker for USOC
When the IOC launched the Olympic Channel, one of the goals was not only to give the Olympic brand more-consistent exposure between Games but to also to create the next generation of Olympic athlete and fan.

“One of the missions that we created in the global Olympic Channel was to get more youth involved in sport through inspiring them through the storytelling we are doing,” says Parkman. “So, yes, we are hopeful that, through what we are doing both on the global scale and the local scale and through our digital platforms, we are going to inspire a new generation to become more participatory in sport, to become more participatory in Olympic sport, and to build that next generation of Olympic fans.”

To USOC CMO Lisa Baird, the partnership is important because it gives the USOC a level of production that was previously unattainable.

“There is only so much we can do at a production to be able to focus on the stories of hundreds of Team USA athletes and to bring coverage of competition of Olympic and Paralympic sport,” she says. “One thing this does is, it exponentially increases not only the coverage that you heard about but the ability to produce and bring great content, competition, and storytelling immediately. I think that’s the biggest benefit.”

USA Track and Field CEO Max Siegel says that, with robust offerings set to include documentaries and archival footage, the Olympic Channel will help bring the personalities and stories to the public each year of the Olympic cycle. “Together with USATF’s annual event coverage on NBC and its networks, the Olympic Channel is a critical part of providing 360-degree programming for track and field and all Olympic Sports.”

And, for an organization like USA Archery, the exposure could help create the next generation of competitive archers.

“With increased exposure for often untelevised sports, people will be better able to see the full scope of the Olympics and share the incredible stories of all of Team USA athletes,” says Denise Parker, CEO, USA Archery.

Zenkel believes that the growth of the channel will depend on audience engagement, and, with carriage in 35 million homes, he expects growth on the virtual-MVPD side.

“They have almost all embraced the channel from the get-go, so there’s probably some growth there,” he says. “It’s important to note that the Olympic Channel partnership involves the linear channel and hundreds of hours of programming, linear programming, on NBC and NBCSN.

“It is a very robust distribution system as those channels are obviously fully distributed,” he continues. “So the audience in the United States is going to have many opportunities to access this content. My hunch is, there will be an interest in seeing that which might not be accessible to those who are not being distributed the channel.”

Additional reporting by Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

After pro career, former Olympian Walter Dix continues his love of track at Masters Championship

Walter Dix gave a wave to the crowd as the PA system at the Bernie Moore Track Stadium listed his long rèsumè of accomplishments. The small crowd responded with a round of applause for the man who is one of the more successful former athletes competing on LSU’s campus this weekend.

Dix won two bronze medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics for team USA, the only U.S. track athlete to win multiple medals in the games. He owns three gold medals in the USA Outdoor Championships. At Florida State, Dix was an outdoor national champion in the 100 meters.

He’s raced against the best in the world, including Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay.

But on Friday, Dix began a different chapter of his career, when he ran in the 100-meter dash prelims at the USA Track and Field Masters Championship, an event that allows athletes 30 years and older, amateur and former professionals, to compete for the rest of their lives. There is no qualifying standards to enter.

It was the first time Dix competed in such an event, and while there was no threat of broken records or Olympic golds on the line and his competition wasn’t the world-class athletes he was used to, it still gave him the same rush and excitement he’s felt his whole career.

For Dix, Friday was about nothing more than the love of the sport.

“I love track and field. It’s a part of me,” Dix said. “This is just something I always want to be a part of. This is here for people who love track and field. At 31 years old, why would I not run this race?”

Dix posted a time of 10.32 seconds in the 100-meter prelims Friday, far ahead of his next closest competitor. Lawrence Trice Jr. finished second with a time of 10.70.

Dix’s career best — 9.88 seconds — came in 2010. Only 24 sprinters, eight of which are Americans, have ever run a faster time.

At the Beijing Olympics, he ran a time 9.91 seconds, finishing third behind Bolt and Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago.

“(Beijing) was definitely a life-opening experience to get to compete for your country,” Dix said. “It’s definitely a once- in-a-lifetime experience. I’m glad I was able to do it.”

His best event, though, is the 200 meters, where he set a personal best of 19.53 seconds in 2011, making him the fourth fastest man in the event. He also finished third behind Bolt in the Olympics in the 200 meters.

Dix is scheduled to compete in the 200 meters at the Masters Championship with the prelims Saturday and the final Sunday at 11:03 a.m. The finals of the 100-meter dash will be at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

“It was fun,” Dix said. “You can only stay at that level for so long. You try to make it last as long as you can and then you have to continue to come down and continue being a great american and live your life.”

Dix said he’s had a wonderful experience in Baton Rouge getting to know other people from around the country who are as passionate as he is about the sport.

And even if there aren’t many who can push him in a race the way he has been in the past, it’s nice to see the same drive and determination Olympic athletes show.

“They take it just as serious as the Olympic athletes,” Dix said. “You see some of the competitors here, and the fun they’re having is just like Olympic athletes. There’s no different except for maybe the age and the level. As far as human beings competition, it’s all the same.”

Rare Olympic gold medalist duel set for Rabat; Diamond League preview

A rare, perhaps unprecedented, matchup of Olympic women’s 400m and 800m champions headlines a Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, on Sunday.

Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo and South African Caster Semenya are both entered in the 400m. Coverage begins on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold at 2 p.m. ET.

It’s the first time in recent history, perhaps ever, the reigning 400m and 800m gold medalists go head-to-head in an individual race. The comprehensive track and field statistics website shows no other instances since the women’s 400m was added to the Games in 1964.

Savor it now, because Miller-Uibo and Semenya will not race each other at worlds next month. Semenya is contesting only the 800m there. Miller-Uibo is going for the 200m and 400m.

A number of sprint stars line up in Rabat, including Elaine Thompson, Andre De Grasse and Yohan Blake.

Here are the Rabat entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:02 p.m. — Men’s Shot Put
1:10 p.m. — Women’s Triple Jump
1:50 p.m. — Men’s High Jump
1:52 p.m. — Women’s 400m Hurdles B
1:55 p.m. — Men’s Pole Vault

2 p.m. — Women’s Javelin
2:03 p.m. — Women’s 400m Hurdles A
2:13 p.m. — Men’s 100m
2:22 p.m. — Men’s 800m
2:30 p.m. — Men’s Long Jump
2:32 p.m. — Women’s Steeplechase
2:50 p.m. — Men’s 200m
2:58 p.m. — Women’s 1500m
3:12 p.m. — Women’s 100m
3:20 p.m. — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
3:37 p.m. — Women’s 400m
3:46 p.m. — Men’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s 100m — 2:13 p.m.
Yohan Blake, the joint-second-fastest man in history, can win his first Diamond League race in five years on Sunday. He is the class of a field otherwise lacking world championships medal favorites.

Last time out, Blake swept the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican Championships, posting his fastest times since 2012 to rank Nos. 2 and 5 in the world this year. In the years since 2012, Blake went from legitimate threat to Usain Bolt to the walking wounded, tearing his right and left hamstrings in 2013 and 2014. He’s inching closer to his old form.

Men’s 800m — 2:22 p.m.
Like Blake, Nijel Amos was once the man pushing a legend in this event. At 18 years old, he took silver to David Rudisha in the memorable London Olympic final, shattering the world junior record.

But the Botswana runner missed the 2013 Worlds due to injury and failed to make the final at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics. He came back strong, winning his first Diamond League race in two years and then posting 1:43.18 in London last Sunday, the fastest time in the world this year by four tenths of a second.

Rudisha has lost two of three 800m races this year, so he may be vulnerable next month. The world-record holder isn’t in Sunday’s race, but other world medal threats are — U.S. champion Donavan Brazier and Kenyan teen phenom Kipyegon Bett.

Men’s 200m — 2:50 p.m.
Interesting mix here. There’s Andre De Grasse, the Olympic silver medalist in Rio. There’s Warren Weir, the Olympic bronze medalist in London contesting his first Diamond League race in three years. There’s U.S. champion Ameer Webb. There’s U.S. 400m champion Fred Kerley. And then Brit Zharnel Hughes, the former teen phenom and longtime Usain Bolt training partner.

Nobody in his field has broken 20 seconds this year (six other men have), but look for De Grasse and Webb to chase 19. They’ll need to in order to be considered threats to Wayde van Niekerk at worlds.

Women’s 100m — 3:12 p.m.
Elaine Thompson should extend her 100m winning streak to 17 meets here. The field lacks her top rivals — American Tori Bowie and the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers.

It does include two of the other top six women in the world this year — Michelle-Lee Ahye and Kelly-Ann Baptiste, two veterans from Trinidad and Tobago. If they can push Thompson, the Jamaican 100m record of 10.70 seconds may be in jeopardy.

Women’s 400m — 3:37 p.m.
Shaunae Miller-Uibo has won the 400m at nine straight meets since her loss to Allyson Felix at the 2015 World Championships. That streak is very much on the line here.

Caster Semenya chopped 2.14 seconds off her 400m personal best last year, while focusing on the 800m. She even won the Diamond League finale in Brussels in a time that would have placed fifth in Rio.

Miller-Uibo was easily faster than Semenya’s personal best in her two 400m races this year, but she is not the fastest woman this year in the Rabat field. She trails Quanera Hayes, who won the 400m at the USATF Outdoor Champs in the second-fastest time in the world this year.

An interested onlooker will be Felix, ranked No. 1 in 2017.