Olympics offer HDTV showcase

NBC coverage provides coveted platform

Want to see every recent advance in sports broadcasting rolled into one spectacle?

Tune in, click on or punch up this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing. Indeed, the 2008 Games — carried in the U.S. by NBC, which paid $5.7 billion for exclusive rights — will feature more HD footage and broadband coverage than any other sporting event in history.

“This is the most important sports broadcasting event ever,” says Ken Kirschbaumer, director of information and editorial services for the Sports Video Group, the industry trade org that’s making the Olympics the centerpiece of NAB’s Sports Technology Forum on Wednesday. The all-day event will cover everything from creating an all-HD international broadcast center at the Games to mobile production of Olympics coverage.

“Given that Beijing is such a huge event involving so many manufacturers and technologies, we thought it would be a good idea to get them in a room and have them share ideas,” Kirschbaumer notes.

“These Olympics will provide a huge platform for both content and technology to be displayed at the highest level,” adds Ron Bension, CEO of Sportnet, a network of sports-related websites that includes channels for the U.S. Olympic swim, track-and-field, and gymnastics teams.

“Anybody who has a cool technology will want to either debut it or have it highlighted at such an event that’s watched by hundreds of millions of people globally.”

Certainly, companies dealing in high-def capture and delivery technologies will enjoy a huge showcase at the Games.

Starting Aug. 8, when the Olympic flame is lit, the Beijing Olympic Broadcasting Co., which is handling production operations for a platoon of international broadcasters, will not have a single standard-def camera position; instead employing more than 1,000 HD cameras and 60 HD mobile units while wiring all the Olympics venues with fiber-optic cables suitable for high-def transmission.

This commitment will allow the global group of broadcasters who enjoy Olympics rights — which includes not only NBC, but Britain’s BBC and Japan’s NHK, just to name a few — to vastly expand their HD offerings.

In previous Olympics, NBC’s HD coverage was limited to a finite number of sports. During the 2004 Athens Games, for example, the network presented 399 hours of HD coverage of select events — basketball, diving, soccer, swimming and track and field — spread across its broadcast and cable platforms. For the 2006 Winter Olympics, the Peacock delivered just over 303 hours of high-def programming.

In Beijing, however, the network will deliver 756 hours of HD, spread across NBC HD, Universal HD and USA HD, with many events broadcasts live in primetime despite a 12-hour time difference between New York and Beijing.

The lofty high-def ambitions of these Olympics, NBC Sports exec producer David Neal predicted in a keynote address last year, “will be a signature moment for the adoption of high-definition as a mainstream delivery medium for consumers.”

Meanwhile, these Games could have an equally innovative impact on broadband video, with the bulk of NBC’s unprecedented 3,600 hours of event coverage — a trifold uptick from the 1,210 hours for Athens — available exclusively online at NBCOlympics.com

The emergence of a robust streaming video platform will offer viewers access to more niche-oriented Olympic sports — table tennis, anyone? — that typically can’t generate the Nielsen numbers necessary for broadcast or cable delivery.

“It will allow what is otherwise a non-economical broadcast to be taken and really pared down to an economical webcast,” says Bension, noting that the online medium also provides a bigger tent for advertisers typically shut out of the pricier, less-targeted television broadcasts.

“We’re able to deliver advertisers who are really endemic to niche sports and bring their audience directly to them as opposed to them putting a 30-second spot on ‘Wide World of Sports,'” Bension adds. “We can say to them, for example, ‘Here are females 25-35 interested in gymnastics.’ ”

TIP SHEET

What: NAB Show

Conferences: Today thru Thursday

Exhibits: Monday thru Thursday

Where: Las Vegas Convention Center

Web: nabshow.com

Highlights

  • Broadcast Engineering Conference: Saturday thru Thursday

  • Digital Cinema Summit: Saturday thru Sunday

  • Keynote: NATO’s John Fithian

Monday

  • Opening Keynote: Tim Robbins

  • TV luncheon

  • “CSI” exec producer Anthony Zuiker

  • DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roger Enrico

Tuesday

  • A Conversation With Barry Sonnenfeld

  • Radio luncheon

  • Variety Interviews “Lost” Creative Team

  • “TV 2.0” With Jason Kilar, CEO, Hulu

Wednesday

  • Technology luncheon

  • Panel: “India’s Entertainment Economy: From Emerging to Surging”

  • Panel: “A Million Dollar Look on a Thousand Dollar Budget!”

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