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Exclusive interview with Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of OBS: to narrate the Olympic story in new ways and promote positive values

By Yutang Sports Monday, 01 Jul 2024 14:40

From April 7 to 11, the SportAccord World Sport & Business Summit, returned in Birmingham, West Midlands, and brought together around 1,700 sporting leaders and key decision makers from over 120 International Federations, the International Olympic Committee, and organisations involved in the business of sport.

Themed as “The Power of Sport”, the Sport’s most influential gathering delivered a week-long combination of official sports meetings, social gatherings, a themed conference programme and exhibition space for International Federations, industry, cities and regions to focus on the challenges and opportunities ahead for global sports community.

As one of the summit’s Principal Media Partners, Yutang Sports was honored to have an in-depth conversation with Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) and Executive Director of Olympic Channel Services (OCS), who reacts to the digital transformation of the media broadcasting ecosystem and shares insights on the organizations’ innovative strategies for the new Olympic cycle.

Yiannis Exarchos ©️Yutang Sports

Narration of Olympics in a new way

Before the interview, Exarchos, as a “old China hand”, extends his warm greetings to Chinese friends and affections to the country through Yutang Sports’ camera. “There I have spent some of the best and most creative years of my life before the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Throughout the years I have kept very close to the incredible developments in China regarding the world of media and the world of technology.”

With all eyes on La Seine for the upcoming one-of-a-kind opening ceremony, the Paris Olympic Games, hailed by the IOC President Thomas Bach as “Game of new era”, have been in the limelight of world sports community, with attention not only on the competitions themselves but also on technology and idea innovations regarding content creation and broadcasting.

“People are always expecting innovations and new things in every Olympic Games. But I believe that the Paris Olympics Games are going to be very special precisely because there are enormous changes going on in the world of technology. Digitalization is everywhere, along with people’s shifting preference on content consumption, especially among different generations.”

With more than half of the world’s population watching the Olympic Games, challenges would be clearly posted for organizers on how to present the Games in a way that satisfies the audience’s distinctive types of tastes and ways of consumption. For Exarchos, it is particularly important to ensure that the Games stay highly relevant to younger generations around the world, and technology plays an important role in achieving this.

“We are in the middle of a major shift in technological paradigm with the growing maturity of the artificial intelligence technologies. China is actually one of the world's leaders in this respect.” says Exarchos, who also mentions OBS’ current works on a series of AI generated 360 ° replays in partnership with Chinese tech giant Alibaba, one of the IOC’s TOP partners, as a clear example.

In the meantime,  OBS is also in close cooperation with IOC’s other tech-related partners, like Omega, and using enhanced data graphics to tell the story of Olympic competitions in new ways and to make it more understandable to the global audience.

“It will be fantastic coverage,” Exarchos tells Yutang Sports, “We will produce more than 11,000 hours of content, which is more than three times that of the competition itself (3800 hours). The reason lies in the necessity for us to produce a lot of additional content, primarily for digital media and social media platforms, to enable people to enjoy the Games online where they spend a lot of time in their daily life.”

Among all coverage content of OBS, one notable aspect could be the significant amount of behind-the-scene coverage, including the way the athletes prepare, concentrate, as well as what follows the athletes after the competitions, assisted by innovative coverage tools including massive drones, and cinematic cameras that give the feeling of films. Exarchos believes that there could be no better place for such coverage than in Paris, due to the city’s profound film history and the splendid urban views being showcased to the world.

Foreseeable as how tech innovations could be used in content spread during the Paris Olympics, Exarchos attaches emphasis on the core principle of OBS’ using technology, which is to tell more compelling, more interesting, and more inspirational stories about the athletes. “It is not just about showcasing technology, it is about making people around the world really fall in love with the athletes, with sports, and with the Olympic Games.”

High-quality involvement powered by digitalization

As one of the key trends for the Olympic Movement, digitalization has been an unstoppable force across the world of sports, which also brings significant tasks for OBS and Exarchos, who admits that the mission to maximize the media value of the Olympic Games under the digital streaming era is clear.

“We have been very keen on embracing the digital revolution. It dates back to the Beijing 2008 Games, when most of the platforms that are currently famous did not even exist, it was the first Games that experimented with streaming. Since London 2012, we have been consistently introducing innovative things in our coverage, technically and creatively, that effectively help broadcasters put Olympic images on digital platforms.”

The tide of digital transformation is also pushed forward by the younger generations, who have demonstrated a major shift in the way they consume content, especially with short form content that is easily sharable and is significantly preferred by the younger age group. Exarchos also agrees that such content has a quick emotional impact, especially at the current time when information and images are always available and make life competitive and congested.

“If we want to keep the Olympics relevant to young generations, we need to tell the Olympic stories in this way. This is exactly what we're trying to do.”

While Exarchos also points out that the digitalization should not be perceived as a thorough transition, since the traditional way of experiencing sports could never be eclipsed, especially at major sports events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup where interesting stories are always happening in more than one angle. In the meantime, the high-quality film and television productions will also remain one of the few available visual areas of longer-time consumption, as people will still spend quite sufficient time watching the content, even for younger people.

“This is also the key element that maintains the high value of major events, and I believe that the Olympics have this unique power, because of their capacity to aggregate massive audiences from diverse demographics and keep them engaged for longer periods of time.” says Exarchos, “To do one smart video for 12 seconds is totally fine, but it's far from enough to maintain the value.”

On the other hand, succinct as the content is, the short videos are still profoundly revolutionizing the way that sports content is delivered and consumed, which has been more prominent than ever with competition among platforms being highly fierce. The value is also well recognized by Exarchos, who highlights smart phones’ strong links with how the modern world and human life operates. By interacting constantly, consumers are feeling easier and more straightforward to obtain important things, whether it is a piece of information or a video clip, that immediately creates an emotion. It has increasingly become the way that people are now behaving in daily life across different ages, young and even older.

“It is very important for me, in the Olympic Games and the world of sport, to translate what happens in sports into short videos, but this is just part of our job,” Exarchos shares with Yutang Sports, “We need to let people become aware of and constantly engage with the different sports and the Games, which is the second step of our work that we should never forget.”

“Though not easy, it is a fundamental focus of the IOC, which is why we have created a strong digital platform and activate all our works during the Games, especially on social media.”

To treat AI in a proper way

Originated at the 1950s, the artificial intelligence technology, based on the large language model, has been developing and maturing over the years before encountering the Olympic Games as a powerful and remarkable tool for content creation and broadcasting. Exarchos also values AI as an epic human achievement especially in the media landscape due to its capacity to generate or manipulate images that look real, as well as to create text and language with extremely high efficiency and accuracy. According to Exarchos, a great number of innovations that people will see from the broadcast in Paris will work on the basis of AI technologies.

However, shortcomings are obvious and urgent for a solution. “I believe that it is time for all of us to take a very responsible stance towards the usage of AI technologies - maintaining and protecting the authenticity of images, as well as protecting the intellectual property of people who create images and text, is very important. From the responsibility’s point of view, it is also vital to protect people, especially younger generations, against bad and evil things generated by AI.”

For Exarchos, he is not “too worried” about how AI will be used in the Olympics and in general sports events, since for those who are responsible for activations, like OBS, are always feeling privileged and reverent about what they do. For Exarchos, the job is to promote very positive values for the world, represented as peace, harmony, and unity that brings people, nations and athletes together.

“But, speaking at the wider spectrum, the AI technology does require huge responsibility,” says Exarchos, “I don’t think that the world is entirely prepared to put a regulatory framework around that. In some cases, I’m particularly concerned about how AI may be used for younger people, for underage people, and for other vulnerable groups.”

Innovation is fundamental

Featured by additions of new disciplines like skating, surfing, breaking, and sports climbing, into the Olympics, the IOC has been dedicated to the rejuvenation of the Games. From Exarchos’ point of view, OBS, as the Games Host Broadcaster, has been extremely supportive of the introduction of emerging sports due to their strong ties with younger generations. But he also points out that traditions like running and jumping shall never be dismissed, as they are human fundamentals that never become obsolete.

However, changes are necessary for Exarchos and OBS, when considering the way people live today. “The rapid urbanization worldwide means brand new opportunities have completely overturned our traditional concept of developing sports which is no more sustainable. Especially in cities with huge populations and limited open grounds, having new sports that are easy to set up and practice is significant, as they are bringing increasing opportunities for everyone to enjoy sports,” thinks Exarchos. “Innovations we have done are similar in every sport. But to bring the new sports to the Olympics, we would like to treat them as all other traditional sports are doing, while representing them in the way that people have never seen in other competitions.”

Exarchos shares with Yutang Sports an example regarding OBS’ development of an AR based system, in cooperation with a company in China, that can accurately explain how sports climbing works. The system is tailored for the Olympics and will become a great legacy for the way that sports climbing could be covered. Eyes on the future, OBS will be constantly looking into creative ways to tell the story of the new sports.

Before ending the conversation and taking the stage at the SportAccord as a key speaker, Exarchos finally acknowledges China’s brilliant power in sports innovations and recognizes the country as one of the world’s big laboratories of ideas. 

“For me, China is one of the most interesting places in terms of innovation, which is the reason why we frequently turn to companies or experts in China when we have new ideas,” says Exarchos, “throughout the years, I have witnessed China’s incredible capacity to grasp innovative ideas and deliver them to practice.”

About SportAccord World Sport & Business Summit 

The SportAccord World Sport & Business Summit brings together around 1,500 leaders and key decision makers from over 120 International Federations (IFs), the International Olympic Committee, and organisations involved in the business of sport. 

The Summit provides an unrivalled platform enabling global business leaders and host cities to have access to all the International Federations and their stakeholders in one location over several days. 

This unique event is a combination of official sports meetings, networking gatherings, a themed conference programme, and exhibition space enabling International Federations, industry, cities and regions to showcase and advance their sport, services and facilities. 


SportAccord is a sports event organisation based in the Olympic Capital, Lausanne, Switzerland, and governed by stakeholders representing the Olympic and non-Olympic International Federations.  

It brings together International Federations and organisations involved in the business of sport with the aim to serve, promote and protect the common interests of its stakeholders, help them achieve their global objectives and facilitate knowledge-sharing.

SportAccord’s stakeholders include:

ASOIF (Association of Summer Olympic International Federations)

WOF (Winter Olympic Federations)

ARISF (Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations)

AIMS (Alliance of Independent Recognised Members of Sport)

Visit SportAccord.sport for more information.

About Yutang Sports

As one of SportAccord's Principal Media Partners, Yutang Sports is a Chinese leading sports marketing and media platform, with an ultimate mission to connect China and world through sports. After years of growing, Yutang Sports, with a comprehensive media and marketing promotion system, is now dedicating to reporting sports business and marketing trends, providing sports business news, analysis, and exclusive data reports in both Chinese and English. Having been cooperated with top-level domestic and international sports summits, Yutang Sports is opening a window for Chinese sports industry to embrace the world.



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