Friday, August 12, 2016

Watching Olympic Judo

For those of us who were not in Rio itself, watching Olympic judo required quite a bit of detective work.

There were many broadcasters (TV stations) and livestream providers (usually broadband companies) around the world which provided feeds from Carioca stadium where the judo action was happening. But as I had complained about earlier, the main problem judo fans faced was that most broadcasters and livestreamers provided one feed only (to one mat) even though there were two matches going on simultaneously during the preliminary rounds (morning session).

The decision on which mat to feature seemed pretty arbitrary and had nothing to do with the quality of the players on a particular mat. On Day Two, most broadcasters chose to feature Mat 2 although four of the most exciting players in the -66kg category were fighting on Mat 1.

I had two judo friends who were watching the matches live together with me although we lived in different countries. One was in Belgium and the other in Germany. Remarkably, all three of us had access to the same mat on that day (Mat 2) although what we really wanted to see was Mat 1.

I recall my Belgian friend telling me that Zantaraia had just lost to Oleinic and both of us wanted to know how and by which technique. But we had no access. Later, my German friend told me about a player named Mateo from the Dominican Republic who had created an upset when he beat Oleinic. Again, we want to know how this happened and what technique he used, etc... But no accesss.

One way some people overcame this one-mat feed problem was to try to find feeds from other countries that hopefully featured other mats. For English-speaking folks, USA, Canada and UK were the obvious ones.

But USA proved hardest to access because NBC's broadcast required a username and password from a Cable TV provider. Canada's livestream was free but you needed to get a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for Canada as that livestream was Geo-Blocked. You could do this relatively cheaply but the stream was very laggy because VPNs cause your Internet access to slow down considerably. I tried Canada's livestream but it was too laggy for me to view the videos properly and besides, it often chose to livestream the same feed as I was getting from my homegrown provider. So no point accessing that.

I also tried the BBC. Like Canada's livestream, it was free although again, you need a VPN (this time for the UK). And again, the same problem, too laggy. And also quite often the same feed (generally, for English speaking countries, they chose the feed that Neil Adams was commenting on, whichever that may be).

What I really needed was a livestream provider that offered feeds to both mats. I found one purely by chance. A judo acquaintance from Australia had commented about something I tweeted so I asked him how he was watching the matches (I had noticed from our exchange that he seemed to have access to matches I wasn't getting so he must either have a different feed or access to both feeds).

He told me that a judo friend had "screenshared" some of the matches with him. I wasn't sure what that meant but it turned out that his judo friend was someone I had met before and actually did randori with some time back. I contacted him and asked him how he was able to watch the matches. He told me about a premium Olympic packaged that Australia's Channnel 7 offered online.

It required payment but hey, it had offered feeds to both mats! I decided to subscribe although I was taking a chance on it because like the other livestreams, it was geo-blocked and required a VPN to access, which often meant slow and laggy streams. But I was desperate for two mats so I did it.

Sad to say, due to the VPN the feeds were somewhat laggy but better than the feeds from Canada or the UK. I was able to watch alternate mats on some days, although on certain days the feed was so laggy that it was unwatchable. The good thing about this service though is that they had a replay option so you don't necessarily have to watch it live. You could stream it later on at your convenience.

On paper, that's fantastic. In reality, the replay streams were unreliable. In some cases they were so laggy as to not be playable (though that could be due to VPN). In other cases the streams played at the wrong speed or were very pixelated. Basically after Day Two, most of the replay feeds were not very good at all (Days One and Two were fine).

I wouldn't say it was a waste of money as I did get to see some fights on alternative mats. But it really wasn't as smooth an experience as I had hoped it would be.

Some of my friends has it worse. My Germany friend had lots of livestreaming problems. At one point, his livestream provider did not have any feed for the Final Block for one of the days and in order allow him to watch the finals live, we went onto Skype and I turned my laptop camera towards the TV screen so he could watch my live broadcast via Skype. It was hardly elegant but it allowed him to watch the finals live.

My Belgian friend had it good on some days. There were two livestream providers in Belgium and on some days, each had a different feed. However, on some days both happened to livestream the same feed. On such days, he was stuck with viewing one mat just like the rest of us. Damn.

Another thing I must complain about is how some livestream providers made it so incredibly hard to find their feeds on their website. For example, the BBC site did not make it easy to find the livestreams. One of my British judo friends gave up on trying to watch it online when on that particular day he was just able to find the feed despite hunting high and low for it.

Canada's livestream provider also made their interface very confusing and difficult to find the livestream feed. It was almost like these two providers did not want you to find the feeds. It was that difficult to track down. In contrast, Australia Channel 7's Olympic site was very intuitive an easy to use. It was very easy to find the mat you want.

I wasn't just watching the fights though. Even as I chatted with my friends, I was constantly live blogging and live tweeting the contests. I couldn't input every single match of course but highlighted the outcome of matches involving top players. On average I had about 3000 people following me on the JudoCrazy blog. I don't know how many saw my tweets though. But I felt some people who did not have livestream access at all could benefit from my blogging and tweeting.

Watching the judo live with some other judo crazy friends was fun, even if all we had was access to one mat. I was regularly chatting with my Belgian friend on Facebook. Every time some big upset happened, we would text each other and share our views of what had just happened. For the Final Block I was always on Skype with my German friend and we would provide each other with constant commentary about the fights in the Final Block.

Not a day went by when we didn't complain to each other about the poor streaming options. It was so frustrating. How nice it would be if the 2020 Tokyo Games were livestreamed via YouTube, with feeds to both mats. That would be so ideal but somehow, we don't think that would happen. (We can always hope and indulge in wishful thinking though). 

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