City preps for Olympics' Opening Ceremonies

After weeks of rain, the clear blue skies over London reflect the city’s distinctly upbeat mood as it prepares for today’s Olympics’ Opening Ceremonies.

On the streets media crews from around the world are gearing up as tens of thousands of journalists and TV producers boost the already hefty number of extra tourists who are visiting the U.K. capital for its first Olympic Games since 1948. NBCUniversal alone has deployed about 2,800 staffers to produce its more than 5,300 hours of coverage for the U.S. market.

Londoners have been bracing for the onslaught for months, with some bizzers fretting about the impact of the Games on moviegoing and West End attendance, but as the Opening Day approached, there’s a palpable sense of excitement about being in the global spotlight.

“The Brits are very good at whinging. We’ve had the moans about security and traffic problems, but now is the time to start to enjoy the Olympics. There is a once in a lifetime moment. There is a real sense of anticipation in the air,” said Steven Barnett, professor of communications at London’s U. of Westminster.

Most of the nation will be watching the Olympics courtesy of the BBC’s blanket coverage, which promises some 2,500 hours of sports out of an estimated 3,000 hours of action during the 16-day Games, with live coverage every day from all the venues around the U.K.

All week the Beeb has been doing TV newscasts from a special studio at the Olympic Park, providing a picture postcard backdrop of the main stadium.

The BBC needs to ensure it extracts maximum value from the £60 million ($94 million) forked out for the rights, but some commentators are already wondering if normal news judgment won’t go out the window as the pubcaster gives priority to the Olympics.

“The BBC has to be careful that it does not get overwhelmed by the Olympics in the next three weeks and that it doesn’t distort its news values,” Barnett said. “So far I don’t think that has happened. They do seem to be in touch with the public mood.”

Cinema chains Vue and Cineworld will be offering free digital Olympics coverage during the Games, with events playing at 52 Vue sites and 28 Cineworld locations. All screenings are free but must be pre-booked.

Gabriel Swartland, head of communications for Picturehouse Cinemas, does not believe the Games will have an adverse impact on its business. “While there are not that many films being released against the Games, we are still confident of pretty solid business throughout the Olympics,” Swartland said. “Not everyone is going to be interested in watching the coverage all of the time. Even with the Opening Ceremony, not everyone will want to watch it.”

As for the impact of the sports extravaganza on London’s West End theaters, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much quoted prediction that the Olympic period would prove to be “a bloodbath” looks to be way off.

Julian Bird, CEO of the Society of London Theater, said: “The reality, as we predicted early this year, is very different. Every single West End theater is programmed. There’s actually more happening in London theater than at this time last year.”

Several major long-runners, including “War Horse,” have experienced a spike in advance sales for the period.

Tuners with international branding and appeal, including “Billy Elliot,” “Les Miserables” and “The Lion King,” are particularly robust, with the most pressure likely to be felt by plays.

That said, box office for the plays running in rep at the National Theater — George Bernard Shaw’s “The Doctor’s Dilemma” and Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens” plus new plays “The Last of the Haussmans” by Stephen Beresford and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” by Simon Stephens — remain unaffected.

(Robert Mitchell contributed to this report.)

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