Olympics Coverage Keeps Growing

With just over six months to go, Beijing Olympic Broadcasting, is in its last stretch of planning for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. BOB is a cooperative joint venture established by the Beijing Olympic Committee and Olympic Broadcast Services, the broadcast arm of the International Olympic Committee.

(L to R) Ted Ailing and Henry Mok, coordinating producers for Beijing Olympic Broadcasting, check camera angles at one of the Olympic venues.
Photo by Bai Lee.BOB serves as the host broadcaster (aka Olympic Broadcast Organization) for the 2008 Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games. As host broadcaster, BOB is responsible for producing and distributing unbiased radio and television coverage of the games, and for providing broadcasters with the necessary facilities and services.

More than 200 countries will be represented at the Olympics through 12 rights-holding broadcasters. BOB currently has a staff of around 250; 50 percent is currently nonlocal, from 15 countries. When the Games get under way, the staff will swell to more than 4,000 from roughly 35 countries.

BOB has a strong commitment to use as many crews as possible from China for the coverage, and has completed agreements with CCTV and regional networks to supply crews at a number of venues.

BOB’s responsibilities include producing and distributing the international television and radio signals. This responsibility requires the designing, building, operating and then dismantling of the 55,000-plus-square-meter International Broadcast Center, which serves as the headquarters for the radio and television operation during the Olympics.

It also means that BOB staff must design, build and operate the broadcast areas of the different venues, both competition and non-competition. The production will employ more than 60 HD television mobile units; more than 1,000 HD cameras; and more than 450 video recorders. A major portion of Beijing Olympic Broadcasting’s responsibility is to act as the single operational point-of-contact between broadcasters and the various other Olympic entities, such as the International Olympic Committee, Beijing Olympic Committee and the international sports federations.

This requires a huge amount of coordination to ensure proper integration of the broadcaster services. The Beijing Olympics will be the first Olympics ever shot entirely in HDTV. Previous Olympic Games have experimented with HD, covering a few venues. BOB’s production staff calls these games the “transitional Olympics.”

Even though everything will be shot in HD, because much of the world still watches 4:3 SD, these games will be produced so that they will be 4:3 safe. This will include both video and graphics. BOB’s other responsibilities include creating a series of features about China for the broadcasters. It will also organize and maintain an archival service of all of the video shot at the games; work with news agencies and non-rights-holding broadcasters and sponsors interested in shooting at the Olympics; and provide beauty cameras around China available 24/7.

BOB will offer virtual enhancements for the first time to the rights-holding broadcasters--NBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Australia’s Seven Network, Television New Zealand; the Japan Consortium; the Korean Broadcasters Association; the Chinese Taipei Broadcast Pool; as well as the European Broadcast Union, the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, Latin America’s the Organización de Telecomunicaciones Iberoamericanas; the Arab States Broadcasting Union; the African Union of Broadcasting; the Caribbean Broadcasting Union; and the South African Broadcasting Corp.

The graphics provided to the rights holders will be designed to match the overall graphic design plan and will include 3D animations showing the course layouts and the competition elements. This will also be the first time the games will be available in 5.1 surround sound, significantly increasing the number of mics employed to more than 4,000. Broadcasters from around the world committed a cumulative 44,000 hours to television coverage of the 2004 Athens Olympics, the equivalent of 1,833 days or more than five years of TV.

More than 3.9 billion people watched the Athens Games. The coverage represented a 49 increase over the 2000 Sydney Games. Japan provides an extreme example of the impact of the Olympics on the world. Hisaski Hieda, CEO of Japan’s Fuji TV, recently stated, “Since many of the events were broadcast late at night in Japan, workers stayed up to watch them and were literally sleeping in their offices during the day. This phenomenon was even called the ‘Olympic Syndrome’ with national productivity going down during the games.” It is expected that the Beijing Olympics will attract a larger audience than Athens.

Jim Owens is the chair of the Communication Arts Department at Asbury College (Wilmore, Ky.), has worked on the broadcast of nine Olympics and is the author of the book Television Sports Broadcasting. He can be reached at jim.owens@asbury.edu.