Of Quantum Timers, Ultra HD, Second Screen Viewing and Smartphone Penetration
Earlier this year in February, we reported about how SuperBowl XVI in Indianapolis & the 2012 Australian Open had taken giant leaps of faith as far as digitizing & socializing the event was concerned; the upcoming summer Olympics would take cue from these successes and scale up the technology quotient across all 36 sports over 17 days.
Essentially the efforts would leverage on technology to improve and inspire the event across three tiers:
1. To improve the precision of measuring & reporting sporting results;
2. To improve the way different sports are captured on film and broadcasted; and
3. To improve the way the sport is accessed, consumed and shared globally.
In this post, we have looked at some of the major technological gamechangers that London 2012 has thrown up.
Quantum Timers, Sensors & TwinCams
In today’s hyper-competitive sporting world where millions of dollars of prize money & national pride are at stake, it is paramount that no sportsperson loses out due to human or technical error of judgement. In London this year, electronic starting blocks were used to prevent the hazard of false-starts. Unlike previous systems, these blocks would not detect movement but would rather detect pressure and measure the force of the runner’s heels to determine whether the sole of their shoe left the block early. This uber-cool solution integrated a highly complex system of timers, lasers and video recordings to ensure that while Bolt, Phelps and many others attempted to better their records by milliseconds, there were precise tools to measure their race against time.
Likewise for all water-based sports, the Games was the first to ever use NHK’s Twinscam, a dual lens camera based system, where one is positioned above the water to complement the underwater images captured by the other lens. The underwater camera corrected and matched its image with the ‘dry’ camera, giving a complete and more accurate view of the swimmer’s bodies.
The last time the Olympics visited British shores, the winner ran through a tape on the finish line. Omega was the provider of timepieces then and they continue to provide the same service now, albeit with a higher level of precision. For London 2012, Omega supplied a new Quantum Timer which could measure accuracy to a millionth of a second. The starter’s pistol was linked to the timer for an unbelievably accurate measurement of each winning time, and the pistol’s sound was broadcast electronically behind each runner so as to rule out any disputes over the speed of sound – something which has been blamed for skewed results.
Lastly to undo the injustice done to Sarah Stevenson at the Beijing Olympics, where she came within 20 minutes of being eliminated due to a human judging error in the Taekwondo semis, this year all athletes playing the sport wore socks and clothing fitted with electronic sensors made by Daedo. When contact is made, the sensors registered the blow, giving the judges a valuable backup system.
Ultra HD broadcasts
Beijing introduced High-Definition filming & broadcasting to the Olympics; London took this a few notches higher. Three fortunate venues (Glasgow, Bradford & London) in the UK have gigantic 400 inch cinema screens placed for viewers to enjoy the replays of events in Super Hi-Vision, that offers a picture quality 16 times sharper than HD. This technology, which would not be commercially available for another decade, has double the frame rate of an average sports broadcast. So for many, who did not manage to secure entry or VIP passes to the events, this was the best & clearest possible way to get to their favourite athletes.
Robust and secured network and infrastructure
All this technological innovation is of no value unless the technology performs at its peak during the Games. To ensure this, the organizers of the London Olympics began 200,000 hours of stress-testing their networks and infrastructure in January 2011, so as to ensure that everything ran smoothly and all possible failure risks were anticipated and resolved in advance.
Atos Origin, a systems integrator, is coordinating and managing a consortium of seven technology partners to manage the technology front whilst British Telecom is in charge of all communication infrastructure services to ensure that there is no disruption whatsoever in transporting the millions of photos, videos, web visits and messages during the event.
Emergence of the “Second Screen Viewing” phenomenon
One of the more interesting trends that has an impact in terms of scaling up and influencing the Olympics this time was “second screen viewing”, a phenomenon that refers to watching the television while using another device simultaneously such as the mobile phone, tablet or laptop to consume some other dimension of the same piece of content. This created a layer of interactivity and conversation alongside the broadcast medium, making the experience very engaging. With about 86% of the global audience using at least one mobile device to complement their television experience, there were a lot of check-ins on GetGlue, a social media application that facilitates conversations between people while they are watching a particular TV show; lots of interactive chatter on applications such as ConnecTV and Shazam and terabytes of data analyzing viewing patterns and preferences that brands could leverage on for their digital campaigns (the subsequent post would be on this subject about how global Olmpic sponsors and other brands are already making their mark on digital and how ambush marketers are capitalizing on social platforms).
Impact of smartphone penetration
With over 6 billion mobile subscriptions globally (a penetration of close to 87%) and a smartphone penetration of 16% (900 million plus users), mobile was expected to, and has played a significant role as far as accessibility and coverage of the Olympics is concerned.
The IOC has launched two official mobile apps – one called the Join In App to help a visitor/viewer to plan, enjoy and share the Games experience; the other called the Results App that provides all the latest news, schedules and results, allowing users to keep up-to-date with the latest action live across all Olympic and Paralympic sports. Apart from these official apps, there was a “Race For Apps” web platform to tap on the ‘wisdom of the millions’ to source for multiple crowd-sourced applications for the event
So despite the looming gloomy European financial crisis, the world has moved on and made immense progress as far as technology & media is concerned. London 2012 leverage on this technological progress to make this Olympics accessible and memorable for nearly 4 billion people around the world!