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Creating Olympian Audio

Beijing Olympic Broadcasting continues to refine its production plans for the Games. Last month we covered how HD will impact the Beijing Olympic production coverage. However, there are still other firsts at these Games such as surround sound and working with the new media.

Beijing’s HD Olympic coverage will provide a level of clarity that allows the viewer to see more of the whole field of play.

The 2008 Games will be the first ever entirely recorded in surround sound... utilizing more than 2,500 microphones, roughly 400 more than Athens. According to Mark Stokl, director of venue engineering for BOB, the sound will originate in 5.1 discrete channels.

“The complexity of providing the right surround sound atmosphere for the Games has been huge,” he said.


BOB“s engineering staff believes the challenges of the surround sound coverage have been more substantial than the challenges of creating the HD video coverage. There are some venues that have three or four different fields of play. The problem is that they overlap each other. Examples of these sports include badminton, track and field, and gymnastics.

Tracking the surround sound field for each unique group is very complicated and unique. Stokl said that “each sound mix must be self-sustaining even through shared mics.”

This will make it very difficult for the audio mixers during the Games.

To cope with the multiple fields of play at some venues, 11 surround-sound audio consoles have been outboarded to provide additional audio mixes at the venues. Each field of play will have its own outboard audio control environment. These consoles also provide a backup contingency audio plan should one be needed at a venue.

Even though the Games will be recorded in surround sound, a number of stereo mixes will be available for rights-holding broadcasters. The stereo feed for television will be an amalgam of the mics, not including the camera mics. A second stereo feed will be available for radio. This feed will have no replay sound, more crowd effects and include the public address system and starting guns.


The term “new media” means different things to different people. In response to the confusion, the European Broadcast Union worked with its members to define it. They adopted two basic terms—linear and nonlinear service.

Traditional television is considered linear. This is where the network or station decides when the program will be offered, no matter what distribution platform is used. Nonlinear service equals what is commonly referred to as new media, making programs available for on-demand delivery. New media can use any platform; it“s the demand that makes the difference.

While many broadcasters have a streaming operation, Beijing will be the first Olympics where some of the rights-holding broadcasters will identify themselves as purely new media... with no relationship with actual broadcasters. These Games are not only a transitional, or hybrid, Olympics because of the gradual move to HD, but they are considered by some broadcasters to be the last Games of an old era... where the majority of the rights-holding broadcasters were terrestrial.

The Beijing Olympics will be transmitted using new media on several platforms: Internet broadcast television, cell phones, Internet streaming and broadband.


This will be the first Olympics where the host broadcaster will actually create programming specifically for the new media, too. It will comprise a cycle of repeated but regularly updated highlights and be made available to rights-holding broadcasters within the International Broadcast Center in Beijing.

This surround sound audio board will be used to mix Beijing’s opening and closing ceremonies.

As the audience adjusts and begins to look at programming available on cell phones, the production material will probably require more close-up shots than typically used on for TVs. All this programming will be available in a format friendly to new media broadcasters and in compressed formats, if requested.


The Olympic events will be recorded on a massive video server with a capacity of 1,400 hours. It will be backed up on DVCPro HD tape and DVDs. The server will allow rights-holding broadcasters to search footage via keywords and import it directly from the server. Eight ENG crews will be traversing the Games to capture spontaneous footage on P2 memory card cameras.

The production of the Beijing Olympics will be unique. Not only is the production equipment changing, but the strategies and the media itself is adjusting to new media savvy viewers.

Jim Owens is the chair of the Communication Arts Department at Asbury College (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