Photographer: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Cameras in Olympic Ski Racers’ Goggles Are Coming to Your TV

  • Discovery’s Eurosport to put cameras, sensors on athletes
  • In talks for online partnerships with Facebook, Snap, YouTube

Discovery Communications Inc.’s Eurosport channel plans to put tiny cameras on Olympic athletes, placing viewers behind ski racers’ goggles as it seeks to make the most of its $1.5 billion investment in the next four Winter and Summer Games.

The digital innovations, including virtual-reality footage and attaching sensor patches that count athletes’ heart rates and measure glucose levels, will enhance the viewing experience as Eurosport gears up to cover the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

While broadcasting such data will require athlete consent and permission from the relevant sporting federations, Eurosport is confident it’ll gain approval, said Peter Hutton, the channel’s chief executive officer.

“They will tell you how tired an athlete is or the level of power they can generate,” Hutton said in an interview in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where executives outlined their plans. “The amount of data onscreen at Pyeongchang will be revolutionary.”

Olympics coverage is tricky for any network, given time-zone differences and technology-driven changes in viewing habits that make it harder than ever to maintain a TV audience. Even more is at stake for Eurosport, which until recently was considered a backwater, broadcasting darts tournaments and other second-tier events.

Silver Spring, Maryland-based Discovery, which spent 491 million euros ($524 million) to acquire full control of Eurosport from Television Francaise 1 in 2015, is harnessing technology so it can turn a profit on its investment. The company is trying to build the channel into a destination for high-passion niche sports like cycling, tennis, skiing and track, while selectively adding mass-appeal contests like soccer.

The challenge was underscored when European pay-TV broadcaster Sky Plc balked at Discovery’s fee demands and threatened to drop Eurosport and other channels before the sides came to terms late last month.

Facebook Talks

Eurosport is in active partnership talks with Facebook Inc., Snap Inc., Twitter Inc. and YouTube for the Olympics, and will be announcing deals in coming months, said Jean-Briac Perrette, head of Discovery Networks International.

Jean-Briac Perrette

Photographer: Priyanka Parashar/Mint Via Getty Images

“They’re knocking on our door,” Perrette said. “They know the future is all about video, and they want to be closer and closer to the video space and find cool ways to differentiate themselves.”

Discovery is sub-licensing rights to various European broadcasters by country, a process that will cover two-thirds of its investment in the rights, according to Perrette. The company has completed most of those deals, and at revenue levels that are higher than it was expecting, he said. The company is also pursuing advertising opportunities in the U.K., where Eurosport will broadcast the Olympics alongside government-owned BBC, which doesn’t carry commercials.

‘Come Together’

Despite political volatility, uncertainty and anxiety evident in the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and elections taking place in Europe this year, people still want to be brought together, Perrette said. In that sense, Discovery has an opportunity, he said.

“The reality is most people want to come together and the world is still becoming smaller versus bigger,” he said. “And the singular event, the only event I would argue in the world, that does this on a scale that is unprecedented, is the Olympics.”

Ultimately, Discovery is looking to expand international revenue toward 60 percent to 70 percent of its sales, compared with about 50 percent now, and sports will be an important part of that growth, Perrette said.

“We see massive opportunity outside of the U.S.,” he said, citing Latin America and parts of Asia as regions with potential. “We’re still seeing fantastic growth in several key markets.”

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