Beijing prepares itself for unyielding coverage

BEIJING — To get an idea of what the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games mean to China and Chinese broadcasting, it’s useful to recall that the world’s most populous nation has only been competing in the global event since Los Angeles 1984, when China resumed its seat on the Intl. Olympic Committee.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Olympics here. Four billion people are expected to watch the Beijing Olympics on television, which will do an awful lot to raise China’s profile and generate a long-term, feel-good factor that could translate into a positive economic impact.

“The broadcasts of Beijing 2008 Olympics will be the first time that many people around the globe will see modern China and better understand the country, its people and its culture,” says Simon Twiston Davies, CEO of the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia.

Hard-edged programming from outsiders about such issues as human rights and the status of Tibet is a given, but authorities seem confident that they will bear up to closer scrutiny, having freed up restrictions for foreign journalists on travel and interviewing locals at the beginning of this year. Potential interviewees are being trained to deal with reporters from abroad, including how to handle thorny issues such as censorship.

Beyond that, China wants to showcase its advances since it started to open up to the rest of the world less than 30 years ago.

State broadcaster China Central Television, reckoned to be the world’s biggest TV station with 1 billion viewers, sent just five broadcasters to Los Angeles in 1984. (This includes Ma Guoli, now chief operating officer of Beijing Olympic Broadcasting Ltd., which will produce and provide TV signals for stations worldwide.) By the time the Athens Olympics rolled around in 2004, CCTV had 160 staff in Europe and 300 at home, producing 1,200 hours of programming.

CCTV is thinking even bigger for the upcoming Games, which begin at 8:08 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month, 2008 — you’d never guess that eight is a lucky number in China.

It will use seven channels to cover the Olympics: CCTV-1, CCTV-2, CCTV-5, CCTV-7, a new hi-def channel and two pay channels for soccer and tennis.

Around 3,800 hours of live TV signal are needed for the 2008 Games. Chinese broadcasters will provide the signal for the opening and closing ceremonies and the torch relay as well as part of the signal for some of the biggest sports, like soccer and basketball. CCTV is using Internet portals, news websites and multimedia mobile phone services to make the Olympics available everywhere.

Overall, Beijing Olympic Broadcasting will provide programming for 200 TV companies, facilitating 12,000 workers.

“The core staff of BOB worked during the past couple Olympics,” Ma told the Beijing Review. “By 2008 the staff will increase to 4,000, half of them from outside the country.”

Beijing Olympic Broadcasting will use high-definition signals for all the games and matches for the first time in the Olympics.

“The 2008 Beijing Games will be a milestone in TV broadcasting history, just like when color TV overtook black and white,” he says.

America’s NBC launched a website for the games in August and said the online platform, with 2,200 hours of live streaming, would be critical to its global Web strategy for 2008.

It includes various pre-Olympic data, video and comments by users. And as the games get closer, NBC expects the site to sell pre-roll spots for highlighted video and integrated commercial content in the live event coverage to be distributed by the site.

NBC, USA, MSNBC and CNBC will share TV coverage with HD telecasts on NBC’s HD affiliates, USA HD and Universal HD. Spanish-language Olympic coverage will be seen on NBC Universal’s Telemundo.

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