The journey to Olympic gold has never been so fraught. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic not only caused a one-year delay of Tokyo 2020, but it also made the adoption of new technology an imperative – meaning this year’s Games are unprecedented in almost every way. Cloud services and other tech companies have teamed up with broadcasters to trial technologies that are springboarding the Olympics into a new digital age, and changing the way the event’s exciting moments of athleticism and sportsmanship reach its global audience. Broadcasters are being supported by OBS Cloud, a collaboration between Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) and Alibaba Cloud, the digital technology and intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group, which also owns the South China Morning Post. OBS Cloud is pioneering the remote distribution of content to broadcasters in a variety of formats to meet the different needs of media platforms used around the world. Innovative front- and back-end solutions mean media outlets need less hardware and fewer people on the ground, as real-time feeds of the Games can be delivered through the cloud anytime and anywhere. Social media, digital and mobile content are the key focus of these new cloud-based solutions in anticipation of the broadcasting industry’s full migration to digital operations. A prime example is Content+, which is producing thousands of hours of Tokyo 2020 footage for various digital platforms, such as short-form content clips suited for social media posts. There are 17 rights-holding broadcasters (RHBs) and four news agencies subscribing to the service for the Games. In addition, a full suite of footage for linear television and digital media is accessible to the 31 RHBs that have signed up for the OBS content asset management subscription. Broadcasters are able to set up content creation systems, and access live feeds as well as files of near-real-time event coverage to produce and edit material targeted to their own demographics. Work on the cloud-based platform was under way long before Covid-19 hit, and it was tested at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 and early last year at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020. The pandemic accelerated the change to cloud-supported broadcasting for Tokyo 2020, which points to a significant first step and new benchmark in the way future sporting events are shown worldwide. The OBS Cloud infrastructure is expected to produce more than 9,500 hours of content – 30 per cent more than the last Summer Olympic Games, held five years ago in Rio – to an estimated audience of 5 billion. Selina Yuan, general manager of international business for Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, said Alibaba was confident that OBS Cloud would help digitally transform the way RHBs broadcast the Olympic Games, with solutions that also benefit media organisations in terms of cost efficiency and worldwide manageability. “The agility that comes with cloud infrastructure allows faster deployment time with fewer on-site resources, while the flexibility of a cloud platform enables remote post-production and production to be done faster – and from any location with an internet connection,” she added. Compare that to Paris 1924, when the first live broadcast of any Olympics was transmitted by radio, but the reach was confined to the host nation of France. By the time the Games reached Berlin 12 years later, technology had progressed to television broadcasts, with three cameras providing 138 hours of footage to 162,000 viewers in and around the host city for the 1936 event. Tokyo first hosted the Summer Olympics in 1964, which saw a number of technological advancements change the way that the world experienced the Games. That event pioneered the use of satellite technology to beam live images of the Opening Ceremony to a global audience, in addition to introducing slow-motion replays and quartz-enhanced timekeeping. [OBS Cloud] is perhaps the biggest technological change in the broadcasting industry for more than half a century, since the introduction of satellite transmission Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services At the Winter Olympic Games Sapporo 1972, Japan provided a television feed that allowed broadcasters to select the footage they wanted to air. That became the prototype for OBS. Yiannis Exarchos, chief executive officer of OBS, said OBS Cloud is transforming how the organisation broadcasts the Olympic Games to the widest possible audience, adding: “This is perhaps the biggest technological change in the broadcasting industry for more than half a century, since the introduction of satellite transmission.” OBS has been championing the digital transformation of the media industry, and it sees Tokyo 2020 as an opportunity for broadcasters to deliver new possibilities for how audiences can enjoy the Games. For the first time, the Olympics are being broadcast using ultra-high-definition and high-dynamic-range technology, which provide sharper visuals with more lifelike detail, richer colours and greater contrast to fully capture the action and emotions of the day. Other tech companies are trying out innovations that give viewers a more immersive experience. Virtual reality technology transports audiences into track and field and basketball events; artificial intelligence-powered 3D tracking supported by technologies from Intel and Alibaba Cloud provides data on sprinters’ performances; and 3D animations create a virtual view of the walls used in sport climbing, one of the new Olympic sports debuting this year. Alibaba, meanwhile, has rolled out other cloud-based developments at Tokyo 2020. The new Alibaba Cloud Pin digitises the tradition of trading enamel pins, with a wearable device distributed exclusively to media professionals on the ground covering the Games to help them make social media connections. Another Alibaba Cloud innovation has potential health benefits for participants at large, outdoor summer events like those taking place in Tokyo, where the sweltering heat forced Japan’s weather bureau to issue a number of heatstroke alerts in the run-up to the Games. The temperatures have been taking a toll on some athletes, with a Russian archer fainting, while tennis ace Novak Djokovic called for a delay to the start of matches to avoid peak daytime temperatures. Ground staff at the Games are trialling Alibaba’s heatstroke monitoring technology, which forewarns users of health issues arising from elevated temperatures. It features an earpiece that keeps track of heart rate and body temperature, and alerts the user of any irregularities via an app. The technology extends to environmental monitoring, with devices that detect heat stress by measuring temperature, humidity and sunlight levels in venues. If the test runs at Tokyo 2020 go well, the technology is expected to be fully implemented at future Olympic and other international sporting events – and hopefully for the return of live audiences.