Romero, OBS Take Vancouver Weather in Stride

Five days into the Vancouver Winter Olympics, it seems that Mother Nature has thrown every wrench she can think of into Olympic Broadcast Services’ plans for a smooth Games, but OBS CEO Manolo Romero is keeping a cool head. The warm weather and rain that have postponed events on Whistler and Cypress Mountains, he says, are a normal wild card in the Winter Games, and the new 24/7 Olympic News Channel is bringing broadcasters around the world more opportunities than ever to showcase the winning moments of these Olympics.

“Weather is a normal occurrence in the Winter Games,” Romero says. “The weather has been unusually warm in the last couple of days, plus the rain and so forth, so that has not made for the best of circumstances. The postponement of several alpine events has made us have to work harder, but otherwise I think the broadcasters have been happy.”

Broadcasters have been thrilled transportation-wise, as many of them are able to walk to work in the International Broadcast Center (IBC), which helps keep congestion in downtown Vancouver to a minimum.

“In general, transportation has worked better than expected,” Romero says. “Transportation to Whistler is limited, but in general we are all relatively happy. Snow conditions could have made it difficult to access venues like Cypress Mountain, but it was worked better than expected.”

Olympics 24/7

This Games is the first for which OBS has produced its own network, the Olympic News Channel (ONC), to offer broadcasters who are not at the Games a chance to show Olympic events and highlights. So far, the channel has received rave reviews.

“The effort is paying off because the reactions we have received from broadcasters are very good,” Romero says. “Even though we got into it very late, the multi-channel distribution is working very well.”

The channel, which currently includes only English commentary, is broadcast to rights-holding stations worldwide via satellite. Overnight, unless there is breaking news, a six- or seven-hour loop is played of coverage from earlier in the day. Two one-hour highlight shows are produced daily, one at 4 p.m. and the other at 11 p.m.

“We have rights holders that are broadcasting this channel live with English commentary in many areas, using it over the Internet, over-the-air, or on cable television,” Romero explains. “Some add voiceovers, and some just get the clips. We leave a four-minute section at the end with beauty shots so that they can use that time for commercials.”

For rights holders with shrinking budgets, being able to pull such high-quality footage directly from the ONC is a boon to their Olympic coverage. For the 2012 Games, Romero and his team are already looking to expand the offering by adding Spanish as well as Arabic language feeds to the channel.

Early Technical Achievements

With all of the delays and postponements that have plagued Vancouver so far, Romero’s beauty cameras have been put to good use, as has some of the specialty equipment.

“The one that was perhaps most difficult to put in place, because we had to convince the athletes, was the helmet cam,” Romero explains.

Athletes in the snowboard cross events have had the opportunity to don a helmet equipped with a camera. This is the first time that the camera has been used consistently for broadcast, and the results have been stunning.

“We rehearsed it at a couple of World Cup events in the U.S. and Europe, and I think the athletes were thrilled to have this,” Romero says. “They are all willingly using the technology.”

More than 30 super X mo cameras – courtesy of three different providers – are also working overtime to provide some beautiful slow motion replays from multiple venues, both indoors and out.

“Some are good outdoors, some are better indoors, but the quality of the picture in spite of the flicker is remarkable,” Romero says.

A Somber Start

The fatal accident on a luge practice run hours before the opening ceremonies forced Romero’s team to make some difficult decisions before the Games even began.

“We had an internal meeting discussing how we should cover the accident,” Romero explains. “We covered it live and broadcasters and rights holders each decided how they should use the footage on their outlet.”

Romero and his team decided not to replay the footage of the accident itself. An OBS camerawoman stationed at the luge track fell down in shock after the incident, and several other members of the crew were affected by the brutal images of the athlete’s death.

“We distributed the footage to the rights holders live because it was an official run, but we decided not to distribute it to the IBC,” Romero says. “We thought it was unnecessary. We had his first run, so we showed that, then we went to his family and the press conference that covered the accident.”

With the opening ceremonies just hours away, OBS had some scrambling to do as they reworked their coverage of that event to incorporate comments from the president of the organizing committee.

“We were advised a few minutes early that there would be some speeches, so we had to make some quick changes,” Romero says.

A Plan for the Future

The Vancouver Games marks the first time that OBS is producing the host feed of the Olympics outside of a contract with the organizing committee.

“In past Games, it was always a joint venture with the organizing committee,” Romero explains. “This is the first time that OBS is fully responsible for the production, and our sole owner is the IOC.”

That makes OBS fully accountable for the productions, which has its perks and its challenges, but with OBS signed on to produce the games through 2016, Romero and his team can finally do long-range planning for future broadcasts.

“Before, we never had the security that we would be doing the Games again,” Romero explains. “Now we know that through at least 2016, we are going to cover the Games, and that allows us to do much more longer-term planning. We don’t have to invent the wheel every time we go about planning for the Games.”

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