Can the Games Go Digital?
We tend to think of digital transformation as something that only companies do, but in fact it can apply to many aspects of society. Read on for a lighthearted look at the future of the Olympic Games.
by Stéphane Ricoul, Executive Director
It’s 2010, and the Olympic Games are taking place in Vancouver.
According to an article by Jean-François Ferland, published on March 3, 2010 in the online magazine Direction Informatique, 3 billion viewers worldwide enjoyed 24,000 hours of Olympic coverage that year. That represents a 50% increase over the 2006 Winter Games in Italy, and a 25% increase over the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. That period also saw 4.9 billion bytes of data sent over the Internet, 30 million megabytes of data sent via mobile devices, 1.1 billion web pages viewed by some 300 million Internet users worldwide, and more than 133,000 videos viewed live online during the closing ceremony.
By way of comparison, the most recent Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 (which took place in 2021 due to a certain virus you may have heard about) had the lowest TV ratings since 1988, but were saved by the streaming platforms that competed for viewers’ attention. NBC Sports said consumers streamed 1 billion minutes of Olympic programming on Peacock, the NBC Olympics app, and NBC Sports. Compare this to the 24,000 hours (or 1,440,000 minutes) of TV content in 2010!
Semrush provides even more interesting statistics: the official Olympic social network accounts have been wildly popular, picking up 1.1M followers on Instagram, 1.05M on Facebook, 503K on Twitter, 133K on YouTube and 72K on TikTok – at that time, the new kid on the block. This picture is likely to change for 2022. However, the big winner of the 2021 Olympics was Amazon, with some mind-blowing increases in certain search terms during the Olympic months: +1,071,775% for women’s tennis shoes, +1,400% for soccer cleats, and a measly +770% for exercise mats.
However, the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics are recognized as the first digital games in history. At the time, a third of broadcasters were using broadband Internet and mobile telephony to broadcast high-definition images, for a total of 13,520 hours of images (or 811,200 minutes, if we’re comparing apples to apples). At the time, this represented a massive leap forward, made possible by the fact that, by the time the Turin Olympics rolled around, the infrastructure for Internet broadcasting existed in five more countries than it had when the 2004 Summer Olympics took place in Athens.
But, back to today. It’s now 2022 and we’re on our way (virtually) to Beijing. Internet and mobile network issues are a thing of the past, the 5G network (tested in South Korea in 2018), UHD (ultra-high-definition) video and the IoT (Internet of Things) are ubiquitous. Today’s “new kid on the block” takes the form of dedicated digital channels, such as France Television’s Beijing h24, due to launch with the very first Games event on Wednesday, February 2 at 1:05 pm. The channel will broadcast the entire event 24/7, non-stop, either live, recorded or replayed, until February 20. Another entirely new feature is the digital wallet with a digital yuan chip, to be created on AliPay and WeChatPay. Foreign visitors will be able to apply for an e-CNY account (the official name of the digital currency) with their passports and overseas mobile phone numbers. While this exposure represents a significant step forward for the currency, it’s not being officially launched – yet!
What about the future? Next, it’ll be the 2024 Paris Olympics, with its stated ambition to be the most digital Games in Olympic history. What does that mean? It means data is set to help tackle the challenges posed by mobility, cybersecurity, sports performance, economic development, energy transition, sustainability, and social impact.
The goal of this ambitious digital agenda isn’t just to transform the Olympics. It’s also leading to innovations in real estate infrastructure and mobility, in mass transportation and data use, and in reducing the carbon and environmental footprints of infrastructure and activities. It also has the potential to bring about innovations in sports performance through the use of sensors, smart textiles, augmented reality, big data and AI. These technologies not only enable athletes to improve their performance, they will also help them customize their training and make it possible to identify future Olympians.
And after that? Apparently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is considering making virtual sports medal at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where so-called “e-sports” would be given the same recognition as other Olympic sports.
Finally, the false perception that the pandemic has speeded up companies’ digital transformation is perhaps true, at least insofar as it involves changing the mindset of certain very traditional-minded bodies. This development is bound to make the practitioners of some sports, like e-cycling and indoor rowing, very happy. However, if you’re waiting for the IOC to allow video games at the Olympics, you’ll have to wait a little longer. The Committee has stated that a key requirement for it to officially recognize an Olympic sport is – you guessed it – physical activity!