Bringing digital transformation to the Winter Olympics with the power of cloud

An installation of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games symbol
(Image credit: Getty Images / China New Service)

No other major sporting competition can trace its lineage as far back as the Olympic Games. The genesis of this prestigious tradition stretches all the way back to antiquity, and many of the events played at the modern Games have remained fundamentally unchanged since the days of the ancient Greeks.

However, while the sports themselves may not have changed all that much, the environment in which they are played has evolved dramatically. Technology now plays a central role in every aspect of our lives, and new advancements have revolutionised the way we live, work, relax and socialise.

Bringing live feeds of the games to smaller broadcasters

The sporting industry offers a shining example of this phenomenon in action. It’s one of the largest sectors in the world, and successive tech developments have played a key role in its growth. From live radio and television broadcasting to data science and analytics, sports organisations have been able to leverage new technologies for enormous benefit for themselves and sports fans across the world. 

Video distribution is perhaps the most visible example of this; in combination with more traditional media channels, digital live-streaming capabilities now enable sports broadcasters to reach fans wherever they are in the world. This was demonstrated during this year’s Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, where the International Olympic Committee’s partnership with Alibaba Cloud enabled Olympic Broadcasting Services to support broadcasters globally with live footage from events.

Previously, broadcasting live event coverage relied on expensive satellite links and dedicated international telecom lines, as well as significant investments in onsite hardware, setup time and technical support. As such, coverage of the Games was restricted to larger organisations which could foot the bill and spare the time to establish the necessary infrastructure.

Core Systems on Alibaba Cloud

(Image credit: Alibaba Cloud)

This year, however, OBS Cloud gave media organisations access to live, multi-camera feeds at a fraction of the cost and with minimal physical equipment, in addition to the latency and scalability benefits inherent to cloud-hosted architecture. Not only did this result in more stable and reliable video footage, it also greatly levelled the playing field for broadcasters, allowing smaller organisations to utilise live footage.

“Amid the backdrop of COVID-19, our partnership with Alibaba Cloud has continued to transform the way we broadcast the Olympic Games,” said OBS CEO Yiannis Exarchos. “OBS Cloud is one of the most profound technological changes to our operation: it not only offers broadcasters unprecedented efficiency, but also enables endless opportunities for innovation and to seamlessly deliver the excitement of the Olympic Games to the widest possible audience.”

Virtual Influencer Dong Dong

(Image credit: Alibaba Cloud)

Managing real-time intelligence using the cloud

Fan engagement is another key component of modern sporting culture, and digital platforms are a widely used part of sports organisations’ strategies for forming deeper relationships with their followers. This can include everything from forums and community spaces where fans can share their love of the game, to cutting-edge solutions like Alibaba’s virtual influencer Dong Dong or its Cloud ME remote social experience, a cloud-powered realistic projection that facilitates remote social interactions to give fans new ways to connect with the sport and with each other.

Sports organisations have also adopted technology to introduce efficiencies to the business and logistics side of the industry. The running of a sporting event relies on a vast number of moving parts; ticket sales need to be tracked, competition scheduling must be well-managed, and the needs of the teams themselves must be supported and taken care of.

This is complicated enough for something as comparatively straightforward as a football match, but for an operation as vast as the Olympic Games, it’s another matter altogether. Rather than representatives from a handful of Hellenic city-states, the Games now feature tens of thousands of athletes, officials and support staff, not to mention countless fans attending and watching from around the world.

The ability to manage real-time intelligence is a crucial factor in balancing these different variables, and the sports industry at large has enthusiastically adopted cloud-based intelligence analytics platforms as a way to accurately make decisions based on these metrics. Real-time intelligence analysis allows organisations to respond rapidly to changing circumstances and approach situations in a more agile way.

The IOC is no stranger to these challenges. Keeping the Games running smoothly requires precise and careful coordination, and relies on multiple technology platforms working in tandem. For the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, this included the Games Management Systems (GMS), Olympics Management Systems (OMS) and Olympics Distribution Systems (ODS), all of which were designed by the IOC’s worldwide IT partner Atos and deployed on Alibaba Cloud to meet the logistical and management challenges of running such an enormous and demanding event.

Making the Olympic Games more sustainable

The intelligence derived from these cloud-based systems hasn’t just helped organisers to plan this year’s Games, however; it’s also going to enable future host cities to plan their own logistics much more effectively, giving them the tools and insights to effectively redeploy existing infrastructure or assets, minimising the investment necessary to build them from scratch.

“Beijing 2022 should champion innovation as well as sporting success,” said IOC CTO Ilario Corna. “I am thrilled to see that the cloud-based technology in action at the Olympic Winter Games not only benefits athletes, fans and operating staff, but also helps us to honour our ambition to ensure the Olympic Games are at the forefront of sustainability.”

Digital transformation has had a profound impact on the entire landscape of the modern sports industry, as well as on society as a whole. As one of the world’s most recognisable sporting institutions, the Olympic Games’ adoption of this new paradigm demonstrates just how central cloud technologies have become to bringing fans truly timeless sporting moments which are inclusive, agile and connected.