It’s almost a week since the close of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. – an area where I have spent a lot of time over the past thirty-six years, mostly on business but also on (ski) vacations. These Olympics turned out to be a defining moment not just for Canadian athletics but simply for bringing the country together. (Seventeen days without politicians in the headlines is an totally positive experience and a welcome relief. Leave it to the athletes to build a sense of national unity.)
A Winter Olympics record 14 Gold Medals for some really dedicated, yet enthralling, Canadian athletes (and 26 medals in total), gold medal hockey championships for both the men and women and, let me say, as never before – Canada rocks! At one point two gold medals were earned within five minutes; Canada used to wait between five Olympics to win a gold medal (well, at least, three) and none had been won when Canada hosted the 1976 Summer Games (Montreal) or the 1988 Winter Games (Calgary).
It is estimated that over 22 million Canadians (out of 34 million) watched portions of the gold medal men’s hockey game – ending dramatically with an overtime “golden” goal; it was the most watched Canadian television event ever. There’s not a Canadian now who does not know the words to O Canada! (and a government proposal this past week to change one sentence to be more “politically correct” was shot down in a hurry…)
Last fall I wrote Skype: the “Unofficial” Personal Communications Software for the 2010 Winter Olympics? where I included some background on the telecommunications infrastructure build-out for the Olympics. But what was the experience and the outcome?
Personally I stayed at home and followed the action on television and the Internet. All events were originated with HD video and 5.1 channel surround sound; CTV ran a marathon Olympics program that commenced at 9 a.m. on opening day (Feb. 12, starting with the last day of the torch run) and continued 24/7 without a break, other than for the occasional five minute newscasts, through to midnight after the closing ceremony (Feb. 28). The broadcast consortium comprised CTV, TSN, both of which are Bell Globemedia properties, and Rogers Sportsnet (and their French language counterparts) in order to have sufficient resources to cover all the events.
Decisions, Decisions! It was not a case of tuning into one station and having the network choose which events you were allowed to watch; rather the viewer had to decide which sport they wanted to watch at any one time and choose one of three or four channels running different events. For instance, in the evenings one could select between figure skating, curling and bobsled (or hockey or freestyle skiing) – or go out and buy a couple of additional TV sets to watch them all concurrently. (Now if they could all just not run commercials at the same time, channel surfing would have been more enjoyable.)
But that was only half the story. This broadcast coverage was complemented on the Internet where CTVOlympics.ca provided not only schedules and event participant information but also over 2300 hours of content, including real time streaming. Watch events live (with no commentary but lots of crowd noise and announcer pick-up) but, more interesting was that they accompanied the streaming with detailed event schedules and real time result tables so you could follow the evolution of an event towards determining the winners and where individual participants were placing, especially as the “individual performance” events proceeded.
For example, watching figure skating you knew when each skater would skate, the details of their individual programs (so you knew when a “triple lutz, double toe loop” was about to happen) and then a detailed result table (with more scoring information than I could handle in real time). Combining this while watching the telecast changed the entire event viewing experience and how I chose to watch the games. Same for the downhill skiing and those crazy snow cross events in the freestyle category, amongst all the other events.
My first exposure to Olympics ‘”saturation” coverage was watching the 1972 Munich Olympics while working in Germany. Sixteen hours a day of coverage by the German network was thought to be ground breaking at the time. But combining multi-network broadcast coverage with the Internet resulted in an entirely different and unique Olympics event viewing experience. And following my Twitter contacts during events made for a much more amusing time; it was hard to take too many of the more “cynical” tweets seriously. Unfortunately international arrangements were such that much of the CTVOlympics.ca activity could only be accessed from Canadian IP addresses. Political and copyright barriers are still an impediment to fully open international communications.
As for the effort that went into delivering the Olympics worldwide, the official telecommunications carrier Bell Canada reported:
“The Bell team rose to the extraordinary challenge of connecting the 2010 Winter Games and bringing these 17 glorious Canadian days to the billions of people watching around the world too,” said George Cope, President and CEO of Bell Canada. “The leadership role Bell played in delivering Canada’s Games drove communications innovation in this country to new heights. By exceeding the immensely high communications standards of an Olympic event, we’ve provided an incredible legacy of increased broadband connectivity for British Columbia.”
As the first telecommunications partner to deliver both wireless and wireline connectivity to an Olympic Games, Bell successfully executed all critical network and communications services at Vancouver 2010, including enhanced high-speed wireless data and fibre broadband networking, complete broadcast support, extensive Internet portal services and full network security.
The 2010 Winter Games network supported the communications needs of an estimated 250,000 visitors, almost 6,500 athletes and officials, 50,000 staff and volunteers, and more than 10,000 members of the Canadian and international media. Bell’s Olympic network delivered over 24,000 hours of broadcast coverage to more than three and a half billion viewers around the world according to the International Olympic Committee – the most in Olympic history, and a 50 per cent increase over the 2006 Winter Games in Torino and a 25 per cent increase over the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
When a customer first drove me to his Whistler chalet in 1974, it was a bit of a nervously challenging drive on a narrow two lane “Sea-to-Sky” highway that, for one stretch, went out from a canyon wall on wooden platforms. My host had a telephone connection – two wires under his unit connected to the neighbor’s phone line – literally in open air. Today, with a few exceptions it’s a four lane, fully paved highway and Whistler is connected to the world by the most advanced communications technology available.
One outcome for the Canadian wireless telecomm market: Bell, in co-operation with Telus, has built out a full HSPA+ network reaching over 90% of the Canadian population. Canada now has three wireless carriers, the original being Rogers, offering not only HSPA+ speeds but also the Apple iPhone and three candidates capable of offering the forthcoming iPad. But this is just one example of how building an infrastructure for the Olympics has created a much more competitive telecommunications market within Canada. And each of them has the capacity to handle the smartphone data load growth reliably, not only for iPhone/iPad but also for BlackBerry and a selection of Nokia and Android products.
The one statistic we’re missing: how much of that traffic involved Skype calling?
Bottom Line: Not only did we have a great Winter Olympics party but there is a telecommunications legacy that will help to bring this country even closer going forward.
Congratulations to VANOC, the athletes and all those businesses – and the 25,000 volunteers- who help make it happen (and so successfully).
Now to deal with my case of Olympic Withdrawal Syndrome….
Full disclosure; the author was born and raised in Canada (Ontario and Saskatchewan) and has lived in Canada (and paid the taxes) for all but three years of his life. And he remains a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan.
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