In May of 2001, the International Olympic Committee created Olympic Broadcasting Services to ensure that high standards of broadcasting were maintained over successive Olympic Games.
The IOC created OBS to serve as the host broadcaster for the 2008, 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games.
Beijing will differ from previous Olympics Games in that the host broadcaster will shoot everything in hi-def.The Beijing Olympics will be the first Games managed by the OBS team. As the host broadcaster, OBS is chiefly responsible for providing the pictures and images of the Games as a service to all broadcast organizations who have purchased the television and radio rights to them.
OBS and the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games decided to establish Beijing Olympic Broadcasting—BOB—as a joint venture to serve as the official Olympic Broadcast Organization for the Beijing Olympics. The CEO of Beijing Olympic Broadcasting and OBS is Manolo Romero.
This year“s Olympic broadcast production will have a number of firsts—the first all HD Olympic broadcast, the first Olympics in surround sound and the first productions created for new media. Probably the most significant difference from past Olympics is that these Games will be the first shot entirely in HDTV.
While we“ve been hearing about events shot in HD for years, it is significant to hear of creating and broadcasting HDTV from more than 40 venues, all at the same time... and then transmitting the results around the world to more than 200 countries.
Previous Olympic coverage plans are always reviewed as the move is made to the next Games, yet every production plan has been significantly adjusted from previous years. According to Mike Klatt, deputy head of production, “Good directors look at footage and know the sport as well as the athletes or coaches. They understand where to place the cameras.”
Klatt said that “the number of cameras in each venue is based on the number of replay angles needed. HD is all about better picture quality.”
OBS Head of Production Pedro Rozas has been working closely with Beijing“s head of production, Bob Kemp. They have slightly reduced the number of the cameras at the venues due to HD“s clarity. While they plan to have less live cutting, they plan to have the same slo-motion replay cameras with action and close-ups.
John Nienaber, one of BOB“s coordinating producers, said the overall response to the limited HD coverage in Athens was very positive.
“While there were a few critics, many people like the HD coverage more than the SD coverage,” he said.
The clarity of the HD coverage gave the viewer the opportunity to watch the whole field.
Nienaber said that “cutting has sometimes become too frenetic. It is important to let the action in the frame tell the story instead of fast cutting.”
This means that the emphasis will be more on storytelling than fast cutting at the Beijing Olympics.
The coordinating producers are telling their directors to stay with the long-shot camera a little longer to see more of the flow of action and relationships, then go to the close-up on replay. Dwell longer on the athletes. Do less panning on left-to-right sports. Let the action develop without cutting.
The switch to HD is impacting a number of other areas as well. For example, not only does everything need to be shot in 16:9, it also has to be 4:3 safe. Since the majority of the world will still see the Beijing Games in 4:3, even the 16:9 graphics have been designed as 4:3 safe.
Additional lighting will be required for HD at the Games. It is not that more light is needed to light the venues. The problem is that HD picks up everything more clearly; it shows more imperfections in the scene. So, a better quality light is needed.
BOB will still be required to provide a downconverted SD format to any rights-holding broadcaster who requests it. BOB will be providing video in PAL, NTSC, 4:3 and 16:9.
The Olympics is always difficult to cover. HD coverage of the Games will require a total of more than 60 HD production trucks and more than 1,000 HD cameras. However, this year, with the addition of HD at all venues, the coverage will be even more challenging.
Jim Owens is the chair of the Communication Arts Department at Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., has worked on the broadcast of 10 Olympics and is the author of Television Sports Broadcasting and co-author of the upcoming Video Production Handbook. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.