In the build-up to the Beijing Winter Olympics (4-20 February 2022) many of the same challenges that faced the Tokyo Summer Olympics just six months prior, still persist. Due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, only local spectators will be permitted to attend the event this year.
Even with reduced attendance, Beijing 2022 will see some of the most cutting-edge technological solutions in the areas of consumer finance, entertainment, retailing and mobility to be showcased on a global stage.
China plans to trial digital currency even with limited demand
The digital yuan, also known as e-CNY, – a virtual equivalent of the Chinese currency – will be offered to athletes and spectators of the Winter Olympics to use as a digital payment alternative. Participants will be able to process their payments using an app or a special card, while a network of self-service machines will allow athletes to convert foreign cash into e-CNY on the go. Athletes will have an opportunity to apply for e-wallets and physical wristbands that will be used to store digital currency. Places where the digital yuan will be accepted include stores, cafés and restaurants located at the Olympic Village as well as railway stations outside of it.
Chinese authorities have recently been focusing on digital currency rollout to the general population with mixed results. Two technology giants, Alibaba and Tencent, are active in providing digital currency solutions; however, there are questions over whether Chinese consumers will be lured from more traditional mobile payment systems operated by the same two companies. Beijing 2022 was originally considered an excellent stage for testing digital yuan on large foreign audiences to assess its global appeal. However, the ban on foreign visitors will limit the test sample to a finite number of athletes and delegation members as well as a restricted number of local spectators.
Source: Euromonitor Digital Consumer Survey 2021
Virtual and augmented reality to offset some of the live experience loss
Travel and attendance restrictions at Beijing 2022 will underpin higher demand for virtual and augmented reality applications in broadcasting. First, TV rights holders will only be permitted to access certain zones during the games, which will impede their ability to provide desired coverage of the host country. Second, the majority of international sports fans prevented from attending in person will be eager to get as close to the action as possible through advancements in broadcasting.
China Unicom, a telecom partner of the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Games, announced plans to extensively employ virtual and augmented reality to enrich live broadcasts of Olympic events. The company is also looking to provide ultra-high definition 4k content to audiences abroad for all events, and 8k for main events, such as opening and closing ceremonies. BBC Sports is another broadcaster that will lead its coverage of the event from the studio, heavily equipped with virtual and augmented reality solutions. The explosion of cloud broadcasting services during Tokyo 2020 will be further evident in Beijing, allowing broadcasters to access the original content from anywhere in the world, and thereby enabling a persistent stream of content to international viewers.
5G and robotisation will facilitate everyday activities for participants of Beijing 2022
Participants of Beijing 2022 will be exposed to some of the latest applications of 5G technologies. All Olympic venues and roads connecting them are covered by 5G signals. A train equipped with 5G will link Beijing and Zhangjiakou and will allow athletes, journalists and other guests to move between the two competition zones. It is considered to be the first railway line in the world to employ a 5G signal to ensure a stable internet connection with a live-streaming studio set up on board. 5G-equipped driverless minibuses will facilitate the retailing experience for guests. Consumers will be able to place an order on their smartphones or directly on the screen of the bus. In both cases, the bus will locate and deliver directly to the consumer. Robots will be actively employed in various everyday activities, including disinfection, parcel delivery and foodservice.
Despite the challenges, Beijing 2022 will look to be remembered as a global demonstration of technological advancements for international audiences in front of screens, locals attending the games in person and competing athletes. Leading tech companies will also be eager to capitalise on this unparalleled captive audience in order to demonstrate, promote and test the reality of tomorrow.
For further insights into the growing relevance of virtual space, see Euromonitor International’s report Experience Virtual Worlds: Unlocking Opportunities in Consumer Engagement, Branding and Marketing