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Broadcasters Rise To Olympic Challenge

As one who has both produced and directed sports productions for the past twenty-something years, I was not really sure what to expect when I arrived in Salt Lake City prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics. I knew there would be a fair amount of logistics between the International Broadcast Center (IBC), the venues for each sport, and some 25 remote production trucks. I also wanted to find out about the hundreds of countries and their respective broadcasters who would be involved in covering the winter games.

I wasn't prepared for the scope of the games and incredible amount of equipment and the huge number of broadcast professionals who had been assembled from the United States and the world over to make the Olympics come alive on the television screen. Make no mistake about it, these professionals came to work with a real sense of purpose. Imagine the following scenario. Take the largest convention center in any major city that you know of. Now, inside that space, pull in 45 miles of cable, build from scratch over 430 rooms including edit suites, offices, and studios. Next, have it up and fully functional for seventeen days of nonstop coverage and then when it is all said and done, have it all gone less than two weeks after your event is done! The Salt Palace is that convention center and what has gone into transforming that space into the IBC was a well thought out plan executed extremely well. And that doesn't even take into account all the broadcast equipment brought in by International Sports Broadcasting, the host broadcaster of the 2002 Winter games, or NBC, NHK (for HDTV and digital) CBC, the Japanese Consortium and the other 6000 or so broadcasters on site. Now, throw in for good measure retrofitting of all the venues by the Salt Lake Olympic Committee, adding over 200 miles of triax and fiber cable over very rugged terrain and the approximately 400 cameras to be used by ISB (International Sports Broadcasting). ISB estimates they will provide over 900 hours of live coverage, and as the host broadcaster they are responsible for providing clean, unbiased coverage of the Olympics to all rights holders÷some 80 in all. In turn these rights holders will add their own commentary in their native language and also broadcast their own coverage they deem to be important to their particular audience.

Now lets get to even more detail. While each remote truck carries its own cameras, switchers, and decks, ISB as the host broadcaster has selected the Panasonic DVCPRO 50 VTR, Laptop Editors, and edit controllers. Each event is also assigned by ISB, a separate additional Panasonic DVCPRO 50 deck and computer for logging using Imagine Products Image Mine software. The stations will also serve functions as archiving and as backup should it be needed by other rights holders who in some cases may be covering events with their own equipment. In addition, graphics include Chyron Maxi, Infinit!, and some Duets. Intercoms are by Telex/RTS and the monitors are a mix of Panasonic and Ikegami. Other manufacturers providing equipment to various rights holders including ISB and other broadcasters include Thomson, Pinnacle, Sony, Panasonic, Editware, Canon, and Fuji. HD is being covered as a shared resource and coverage for some of the events is being provided by NHK recording in the Panasonic D-5 HD format. In addition, HD remote trucks are being provided by HDNet. According to Manalo Romero, president of ISB, "We will be delivering in NTSC 525 lines. Some cameras at certain venues will be switchable between SD and HD but primary delivery is NTSC." In the audio space, companies like Dolby, Sennheiser, Audio Technica, and SLS audio monitors are also represented.

Of course this extremely short list is just the tip of the equipment iceberg. Qwest is providing local telcom and signals are being distributed via the SONET Network. All signals from the games pass through the IBC under the direction of the ISB before being transmitted to their final destination. So we have the production flow pretty much in place but what about the people? Bob Dixon, project manager of Sound Design/Olympics for NBC is a perfect example of professionalism in motion. While on a rare inside tour of the NBC Olympic compound inside the IBC, I caught a glimpse and a listen of what viewers can expect. A veteran of past Olympic productions, Dixon spoke enthusiastically about his role and where audio fits in to the whole picture. "We want to give our audience the best Olympic experience possible. We work very closely with our manufacturing partners to come up with the best audio solutions that provide us (NBC) with outstanding results," he said. "The Winter Olympics are a challenge. Harsh weather, wind, cold, they all play a factor. Our audience has become very savvy audio-wise with home theaters that can produce great sound if set up correctly, so our surround sound has to be right, not overpowering. It has to be crisp."

Of course the audio QC room Dixon uses to check the audio work would be the envy of engineers everywhere but when you are working on the Olympics what would one expect? Back in the edit bays, the eight time Emmy Award winner comments on the editing portion of the Olympics for NBC. "In the IBC we have Editware, Sony, Avid, to name a few. We also have editing capability at each of the venues. This is obviously time sensitive work, we have used these systems for past Olympics so we know how they work, which is a big time saver for us. We can digitize and start using material off our Sony hard drive right away or come right off tape. So whether it is tape for NBC (the Sony IMX format) or something else, we are ready for it." In closing Kenny Katayama, assistant general manager, Olympic liaison for Panasonic summed it up: "The Olympics are seen the world over. These are a once in a lifetime event. We know we want to provide all the support to the Olympic community and visiting broadcasters that we can."

That's the way it was in Salt Lake City: Serious professionals on a mission to deliver the best pictures and sound possible. Better grab a seat and turn it up. This should be awesome.