It looks like the worldwide pandemic has finally hit the biggest sports and photography event of the year, as the international Olympic Committee is looking at rescheduling the 2020 Summer Olympics. With this news, the big camera and lens companies may be looking at their newly announced, but as yet unreleased models, and could be wondering if waiting out the economic ramifications of the COVID-19 virus is the most viable idea.
Up until this past Sunday, the Japanese officials in charge of the Olympic sites on the ground, including the newly built areas that pertain to the sports themselves, like the housing areas for the worldwide teams, spectators, and professionals that cover the games, have ignored or dismissed any calls to postpone or cancel this year’s summer games. The IOC, the International Olympic Committee, has sided with those officials from Japan in an attempt to keep the likelihood of the games occurring intact, but the IOC has finally begun to waver in the face of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
The most recent hurdles have been coming from the countries that have some of the highest participation levels in the games, including Canada, in a March 22 statement, saying it would not send any athletes to the summer 2020 Olympic games. Canada’s Olympic Committee also requested a postponement of the games for one year in a statement, which was in a response to the IOC declaring in a March 17 letter that the games were still occurring on schedule. In response seemingly to Canada’s withdrawal, Australia’s Olympic Committee mirrored the apprehension of the Canadian Olympic Committee and stated they also would not be sending athletes to the summer 2020 Olympic Games to prioritize the health of their athletes. With both Canada and Australia leading the charge to, at the very least, postpone the Olympics, a number of other committees in Brazil, Germany, and Norway were also urging the IOC to protect the health of the athletes participating from each country and to postpone the Olympic Games.
Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, said on Monday that the decision to consider postponing the games, rather than a full cancellation of this year's Olympic Games, had been agreed upon with IOC President Thomas Bach this past Sunday. The timeframe for the postponement has not been decided as of yet with the possibility of a one-, three-, five-, or 12-month delay possible. The postponement of the games will be decided by the IOC over the course of "the next four weeks,” according to an IOC statement.
The Olympic Games are not just a worldwide athletic event, but an economic engine unto themselves that drives the advertising for a multitude of businesses, including the photographic industry. The big camera companies use the games not only as a testing ground for their newest cameras and lenses, but also as a way to show their captive audience what they should be using to capture the biggest sports and best athletes in the world. With a postponement of the games of several months, possibly moving to the end of the year or even 2021, does it make sense for these camera companies and the third party brands to push out new equipment? Without the advertising nudge they receive from the largest grouping of athletes and events in the world that are covered nearly 24 hours a day for almost two-and-a-half weeks by national and international television networks, the question will be if it makes business sense to release these new cameras or lenses at this time.
For third party manufacturers of lenses and for Sony as a now first-tier camera company, I don't see them suffering the same economic impact that the first party manufacturers will without the games going forward this year. With the consistent updates by both Sony and third party manufacturers, there isn't the pent-up value the games offer in comparison to the likes of Canon and Nikon. The value of the Olympics for the photographic industry as a whole is also in part from the business-to-business sales of equipment that many news and sports networks, as well as freelance journalists use to reinvigorate their inventories of equipment.
When covering the Olympic games, these groups also push out previous generation bodies and older lenses that may now be behind their counterparts and don't necessarily offer the best chance of capturing the instant and immediate value images of the human struggle. Athletes facing the highest levels of adversity need to be captured, sent, and disseminated in record time. Additional seconds to download and upload images to a sports or news network can mean the difference between when a sports journalist has an image on the front page of a paper or the tenth. The same goes for images hitting the online news cycle and may mean careers are changed or networks are less watched, which is a loss of advertising revenue simply because a camera had a slower upload speed.
My opinion is that Canon and Nikon are not only at a crossroads, but at a very difficult business junction due not only to the pandemic, but due to Sony and the loss of their user base from the lack of innovation up to this point. Though Canon and Nikon may have begun to steer their respective ships into new lanes that would see their user bases begin to grow again, the timing is quite possibly a few years too late. Announcements of new cameras and plans for releases don’t add to any bottom line if they aren’t out in the world and being used by photographers that are also advocating that that the piece of new equipment is what you, the consumer, really needs for your work. The question for everyone associated with the photography business in this current climate is: “How do we get through this?” The simple answer, though it may be the hardest to say, is that some of us, including the largest behemoths in the photographic industry may not make it through to the other side of this new economic reality, at least not in the form we know them now.
Let us know what you think of the IOC postponing the summer 2020 Olympics and if you see this as a harbinger of things to come among the largest businesses in the photographic industry.
Lead Image by Inspired Images, used under Creative Commons.