An Olympic Effort

by: David Titmus

VITAC Working Around-the-Clock to Caption This Month’s Winter Games

After traveling more than 1,200 miles by plane, train, sailboat, bicycle, cable car, and robot (yes, robot!) over the past 100 days, the Olympic torch will arrive in PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, South Korea, this week to officially start the XXIII Olympic Winter Games.

And VITAC will be right there with it, captioning more than 1,300 hours of Olympic programming and events, including alpine skiing, curling, figure skating, ice hockey, luge, speed skating, ski jumping, and snowboarding in the 16 days that the games will take place.

PyeongChang 2018 Olympic LogoThe PyeongChang Games mark the 12th Olympics captioned by VITAC, including, most recently, the Olympic Games in Rio (2016), Sochi (2014), London (2012), Vancouver (2010), Beijing (2008), and Athens (2004). It will be all-hands-on-deck in the coming weeks as VITAC captioners, coordinators, schedulers, and engineers bring captions to 630 hours of broadcast coverage across NBCUniversal and its affiliated television platforms as well as more than 750 hours of webcast video.

The games promise to be one of the biggest Olympics yet in terms of production and coverage for NBC, with this year’s coverage estimated to be greater than the combined total of the games in Vancouver and Sochi, and the most for a single Winter Games. NBC also plans to live stream across NBCOlympics.com and its NBC Sports app.

“Though it is a lot of work, the captioners are excited for Olympic season,” says VITAC Scheduling Manager Danielle Bellows. “And due to the tremendous amount of time that they will need to be prepping — adding names of athletes into their dictionaries and reviewing technical terms for the different sporting events and major political events occurring in various countries — most captioners already have begun their prepping.”

Realtime captioners will be on air around-the-clock, doing their best to ensure that those viewers who rely on captioning see the most accurate captions possible. The realtime team has been working nonstop to ensure equipment and captioners are ready for the games, testing primary, back-up, and redundancy scenarios, as well as IP connections, phone lines, and audio lines.

Bellows says the team will have more back-to-back units — VITAC-developed units designed to make seamless transitions between captioners so that there is no service interruption when one captioner signs off and another signs on — in place for the games.

“We will begin to do tremendous amounts of testing with facilities in Korea, as the communications centers are set up in the Olympic villages,” she says.

PyeongChang Olympic ski courseProduction coordinators also have their Olympic schedules and already have begun working with the network to create preparation materials that captioners will use to improve accuracy while writing on the fly. These materials include, among other things, the names of athletes (both those competing this year and those who competed in the past — essentially anyone that could be referenced on the air), historical data, and scripts for the opening and closing ceremonies.

The team also is working with NBC to determine the best onscreen placement for captions, a sometimes tricky task to ensure that captions not only are easy to read but also do not cover the action on the screen or on-screen graphics.

Once the games begin, coordinators work with scheduling teams to ensure captioners are slotted for the events and monitor network feeds to make sure captions are displaying correctly on the broadcasts.

Production Coordinator Kayla Reese says that coordinators also keep a running tally of medals won as a reference for captioners, recording the names of athletes and countries and whether they took home the gold, silver, or bronze. Coordinators share these continuously updated counts with realtime captioners so they are armed with up-to-date numbers should NBC commentators decide to mention the medal chances of, say, Tongan cross-country skier Pita Taufatofua.

Though the Winter Olympics certainly will captivate much of the television audience over the next couple of weeks, VITAC’s normal captioning activities don’t stop when the Olympics begin, says Reese. Competing networks still will be broadcasting programs that need captions of their own, and captioners not on the air for the Olympics will be working to cover our regularly scheduled programming.

Olympic Notes and Nuggets

* NBC’s coverage of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games kicks off Thursday, February 8, one day before the Opening Ceremony, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 25, the day of the Closing Ceremony. Every Olympic event will be available to stream live and on-demand on NBCOlympics.com, along with a wide variety of highlights and video features.

* NBC’s 631.5 hours of television coverage across four networks (NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, and the USA Network) is the most ever for a Winter Olympics, eclipsing Sochi (541) in 2014.

* NBC, for the first time ever at a Winter Olympics, will broadcast Olympic primetime competition live across all time zones. With the benefit of a 14-hour time difference, NBC and NBCSN will present live competition in primetime on every night of the Winter Games (excluding the days of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies).

* NBC will provide 50 hours of live virtual reality (VR) coverage to viewers with compatible Windows Mixed Reality, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Daydream devices via the NBC Sports VR app. VR coverage will include the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, alpine skiing, curling, snowboarding, skeleton, figure skating, short track speed skating, ski jumping, ice hockey, and snowboard big air.

* February’s games mark the first Winter Olympics in Asia in 20 years (but not the last as the 2022 Games are set for Beijing, China). The total budget for the 2018 Olympics, including infrastructure and operations, is an estimated $12.6 billion dollars.