Liam Morgan

Legendary American producer Frank Marshall has a showreel few in the business can rival.

From Indiana Jones to the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, this is a man who knows a good project when he sees one.

One of the standout films in his repertoire is the 2002 smash-hit The Bourne Identity, starring Matt Damon.

It tells the story of a man who is desperate to discover his true identity after suffering amnesia during an undercover operation for the United States-based Central Intelligence Agency.

Throughout the film, Damon’s character Jason Bourne embarks on a quest to find the answer to two simple questions: who am I and what am I doing here?

Fittingly, these two questions can be aimed at Marshall’s latest escapade as he has partnered with the Olympic Channel.

Just over 18 months from its launch on the day of the Closing Ceremony of Rio 2016, the Channel is still struggling to find its place in the ever-growing and ever-changing global media landscape.

It is still battling for relevance in an age where sports content is as accessible as it has ever been.

The first major feature-length documentary produced by the Channel, the Nagano Tapes, premiered this week ©Olympic Channel
The first major feature-length documentary produced by the Channel, the Nagano Tapes, premiered this week ©Olympic Channel

Those behind the Channel, which provides rare tangible evidence of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) pilloried Agenda 2020 reforms, are hoping working with the likes of Marshall will change all of that.

The first major feature-length documentary produced by the Channel with the assistance of Marshall, the Nagano Tapes, premiered to widespread acclaim this week.

The film, which details the heroic underdog tale of the Czech Republic men’s ice hockey team at Nagano 1998 - who stunned the world by winning the gold medal at the first edition of the Winter Olympic Games to feature players from the National Hockey League - is part of the Olympic Channel’s signature Five Rings Films series.

It provides an example of exactly what the Channel should be doing; producing high-quality programming tailored to fans of sport and the Olympic Games.

Sadly, there has been precious little of that during the Channel’s lifespan thus far.

For all of the impressive statistics thrown at us by general manager Mark Parkman during a press briefing at Pyeongchang 2018 last month - 1.3 billion views and eight million social followers were two of the headline figures bandied about - the majority of the world is still unaware of the Channel and what it does.

Even those within the Olympic Movement are yet to be entirely convinced of the Channel’s validity, at least privately.

Publicly, presentations given by the Channel at any IOC meeting or Session pass by with no questions asked, although you get the sense this is a demonstration of members’ ongoing reluctance to stick their head above the parapet rather than a message of support.

While it would be unfair to write off the Channel completely at this stage, it is fair to say there is much work to be done.

Esteemed director Frank Marshall is working with the Olympic Channel ©Getty Images
Esteemed director Frank Marshall is working with the Olympic Channel ©Getty Images

Parkman himself acknowledged as much when it was pointed out to him that there is still no clear programme schedule for the Channel’s online video player platform, the main outlet of the Channel alongside its various social media profiles.

This is a fundamental and rather basic element for any television channel or streaming service; letting people know what is on and when.

It is not exactly difficult to produce and it is astounding the bigwigs and experts behind the Olympic Channel have not addressed this already.

I raised this point in a piece I wrote on the Channel last year and to think it has not been rectified seems inconceivable. A minor element, some might feel, but one which has a major impact on attracting viewers.

Perhaps a more significant detriment to the success of the Channel so far has been the reluctance of Olympic TOP sponsors to get on board.

At the time of writing, just three companies who are part of the IOC’s Top-Tier sponsorship scheme - Bridgestone, Toyota and Alibaba - have become founding partners of the Channel, although Parkman attempted to allay fears over a lack of income by claiming deals were close with technology giants Intel and Swiss luxury watch manufacturers Omega.

They would surely have hoped for more at this stage to boost the Channel’s financial strength.

"We are looking at it by what impact we are having on the Olympic Movement, impact we have done in growing with the Olympic social handles to build a 365 days a year presence," Parkman said in Pyeongchang.

"We are pretty pleased at where we are; we are meeting our projections and are progressing the way we want.

"But we still have a hill to climb to get to where we want to go."

That hill gets steeper as the days go by, particularly as we have now reached the lull which follows the conclusion of any Olympic Games and where interest begins to wane before it builds up again as the next event approaches.

The Nagano Tapes tells the story of the Czech Republic men's ice hockey team which won the gold medal at Nagano 1998 ©Getty Images
The Nagano Tapes tells the story of the Czech Republic men's ice hockey team which won the gold medal at Nagano 1998 ©Getty Images

Concern over the Channel's validity are also exacerbated by its budget of $750 million (£543 million/€608 million) over a seven-year period. At a time where calls for more cash to be injected into areas such as anti-doping are at their most vociferous, it seems hard to justify the expenditure on a product which is yet to prove its relevance.

There have been some success stories, however. The 1.3 billion views figure deserves credit, even if we are not entirely sure how each one is counted, and the streaming of 900 live events across various Olympic and non-Olympic sports since the Channel’s inception is also worthy of praise.

Plenty of sports on the Olympic programme complain of being forgotten about outside of the Games period and the Channel gives them much-needed exposure. The Channel will probably never broadcast World Championships in athletics, for example, but then that was never its remit.

What the Channel always aimed to do was to produce and create programming like the Nagano Tapes. Other similar documentaries under the Five Rings Films banner are planned for the coming years and, with the help of Marshall, the Channel could be on to a winner.

At the moment, however, the Channel has yet to make a significant impact. 

Only time will tell if it will ever find its true identity, much like Bourne did all of those years ago.