Gold medal for innovation

Change has always been part and parcel of the modern version of the Olympic Games. Various types of sport are added to or eliminated from the event on a regular basis. For instance, during the twentieth century there were still a couple of sports in which only two teams competed. One of them was the Basque pelota, with Spain and France as the only participants, while Spain ended up taking home the gold medal. But the types of sports in which Olympic athletes compete are not the only thing about the Games that is changing: the very rules of sports are undergoing something of a transformation as well. Sometimes this is related to the evolution of a sport or the materials involved. For example, take the clap skate and modern swimwear – they’re all innovations aimed at improving athletes’ performance. Of course these innovations also play a part during the preparations and not only during the actual Games themselves. The techniques used during training sessions zoom in on all aspects of the athletes. Today’s athletes have a leading edge in terms of the Quantified Self. For most athletes, everything that can be measured is actually measured. Data science plays a major role in professional sports, just like it does in other industries. The Dutch National Sports Center Papendal has an exercise lab and employs embedded scientists. During the most recent Games, several changes were introduced to the rules of a number of sports. For instance, the hawkeye system was added to volleyball. This system was already in use in tennis, but from now on, volleyball teams can also call for a challenge to allow the system to check whether a ball is really in or out. However, people who watch the Olympic Games would like to see more changes, at least if you believe what’s being said on social media. Dutch national public broadcaster NOS airs the Games with broadcasts that can easily take up to half a day. Public TV channel NPO1 attempts to show a variety of sports and athletes, complete with background information and interesting guests. However, at times this leads to replays and images of previous editions of the Olympic Games, while viewers want to see a match that’s being played there and then. NOS constantly has to make choices in terms of the sports they broadcast, while some of the events are held simultaneously. This was also the case during the previous Games, but what has changed is that viewers have become used to being in control of what is being shown on television and when. This has been the case since the Summer Games of 2012, and now many viewers have become used to Netflix. The Netflix approach takes away the need to look at your TV guide to see when your favorite program is on – you just watch it whenever it suits you. The NOS does offer this service, but not everyone knows where to find it. The livestreams online allow you to watch all sports without the NOS determining any interruption for showing a replay or for interviews with guests. You can watch the live streams on your computer and/or tablet. And that’s exactly where the problem lies. Viewers’ preferences are different, but not their habits, so they still want to watch their programs on their television. Innovation does not only involve changes in technology such as offering streams online. To qualify for a gold medal in innovation, the changes need to fit in with the habits and lives of the people who want to use them. NOS is getting there, but we’ll have to wait for the next Games to see if they managed to succeed. I would like to make the following prediction for the upcoming Games:

  • NOS App for smart televisions and Apple TV / Google Chromestick
  • A lot more data science is shown: athlete, theme and country statistics
  • Commentary on some of the more obscure sports projected on top of the live images
  • Scores shown via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.
  • 360-degree videos for smartphones and AR glasses.