Broadcasting the Olympics
The challenge for the broadcast industry this summer is to televise the Olympics to four billion viewers around the world.
It's 27 June at the main Olympic Park, which straddles the London Boroughs of Hackney and Stratford. Paul Deighton, chief executive of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) cuts the ribbon to the main press centre. Within minutes the media begin to arrive with their luggage rollers, cameras and enforced military-grade pelican cases each containing tens of thousands of pounds of recording gear.
The main press centre has capacity for about 5,000 accredited journalists, but overall more than 20,000 journalists from around the globe have been accredited by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), LOCOG and each country's National Olympic Committee (NOC).
It's crucial that LOCOG gets this aspect right as the world's media will report, write, blog, tweet and broadcast about the organisation from now until the closing ceremony. Nothing can be left to chance.
"I think over the next 30 days of operation, we'll be very focused in methodically getting out our preparations right," says Deighton on the time between today and the opening ceremony.
From that day, an estimated four billion around the world will be watching the Games on TV and streamed on their computers, tablets and mobile devices. Over 5,000 hours of Olympic coverage, all in high-definition, will be provided to local broadcasters. The broadcast operation will be based at the Games' International Broadcast Centre.
The host broadcaster
The entire operation is overseen by the IOC's own Madrid-based production company, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) whose remit is to provide neutral coverage to be supplied to every rights-holding broadcaster around the world.
This is by no means unusual, but the London Games will be the first time that is overseen by a single entity. In past summer Olympics, OBS has worked in partnership with a broadcaster usually operating in the host country; or a group of regional broadcasters operating under the auspices of a regional body. For example, in Beijing,'host coverage was a partnership between OBS and the Beijing Organising Committee.
OBS will typically contract broadcast operations out to production teams around the world with expertise in broadcasting particular sports. The BBC, for example, will provide coverage for tennis, rowing and football due to its expertise and experience.
It may surprise many that the BBC is playing seemingly second fiddle to a relatively unknown production company based overseas. But OBS has more than ten years' experience in overseeing coverage of the Olympics and during that period it has accomplished its mission successfully in the last five Olympics (both summer and winter) and therefore is a very experienced and credible sports broadcasting company.
Having so many broadcasters, both rights holders and non-rights holders, reporting on the Games gives rise to other issues. Most broadcast operations are wireless, but provisioning frequencies to the hundreds of broadcast crews without cross-band interference is a mammoth task in itself.
A special Act of Parliament, The Wireless Telegraph Act, gave the UK communications and broadcasting regulator Ofcom special powers to police radio bands used by broadcasting services at the Olympic venues.
The frequency allocation will be managed by JFMG (Joint Frequency Management Group) to allocate the licence allocation. Any camera equipment that does not carry the correct tags will most likely be pulled up by officials or grassed up by their colleages from other broadcast crews who would rightly be concerned about radio interference.
LOCOG will also have its own broadcasting operation to augment the experience for those lucky ticket holders during the Games.
Spectators will be treated to a programme of comprehensive and innovative sport presentation including in-ear commentary, music, presenters for different sports, as well as a few other surprises.
Each venue will have a tailored sports presentation programme offering different experiences best suited to the particular sport taking place, ensuring the spectator experience is as good as possible.
A music library of 2,012 songs with five music themes – energy, primetime, extreme, heritage and world stage – has been compiled. Each theme will be tailored for specific sports, for example heritage for Tennis at Wimbledon or extreme for BMX.
A unique music programme for the London Olympics, 'Rock the Games', is being created, and features live performances and exclusive new recorded tracks from various artists.
Five official songs have been composed for 'Rock The Games', led by ward-winning band Muse whose track 'Survival' has been written especially for the Games and will be played at various sessions and presentations. Scissor Sisters and Rizzle Kicks are just two of the other artists that are set to play surprise gigs at various Olympic venues.
Films, including 'Sport A-Z' for Olympic and Paralympic sports, will be shown before each session, allowing spectators to get an overview of the sport they are about to see. The films will use actions shots of former and current athletes as well as graphical animations and motion-capture avatars demonstrating the sports.
All venues will have presenters to act as anchors in their specific venue. Appearing on the big screens, they will host each session and guide the spectators through all the key sporting elements as well as interact with the crowd, interview attending athletes and celebrities and keep everyone informed of key timings.
The in-ear commentary radios, available for purchase by spectators, will give access to live expert analysis of the competition. The radio will be available for sports where a number of elements are happening simultaneously on the field of play or where there are judged elements which may not be easily understandable for those new to the particular sport. All commentators will have completed a workshop with the RNIB to make sure that the commentary will also be useful for sight-impaired visitors.
During Games time, the BBC will have 24 continuous high-quality streams available to UK TV licence holders, as well as the main broadcasts during the day on their terrestrial channels, BBC One and BBC Two. Overall, the BBC will be broadcasting approximately 2,500 hours of footage. If you wanted to watch every single hockey game at the Riverbank Stadium in Walthamstow, for instance, that's feasible.
The BBC will also be bringing a great deal of new technology to the operation. Innovation will be in the form of the first ever live broadcast of a prestige event in Super Hi-Vision. This is a new format which the BBC has been experimenting with in conjunction with NHK Vision, which has been developing the technology for several years in collaboration with other broadcasters.
Basically, Super Hi-Vision is an 8K viewing experience which means that you will be able to fit 16 full-HD screens into one Super Hi-Vision display. It is mainly being transmitted to three special screens in the UK based in London, Salford and Glasgow, as well as one large screen at the International Broadcasting Centre within the Olympic Park.
David Gordon, head of Olympic broadcasting for London 2012, is an experienced Olympics Broadcaster and has witnessed several broadcasting firsts since first working on the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He lists the BBC's intelligent player as his favourite innovation from the BBC for these Games.
All of this innovation is in addition to the BBC iPlayer. The BBC required a player that would give UK viewers access to the 24 live HD streams on PCs and laptops via the BBC London 2012 website. Additionally, a free Olympics mobile app will'allow users to access all the content on the go. This will mirror much of the desktop experience, while audiences can also access coverage through tablets and connected TV.
The BBC's 'red button' service for the Olympics on Sky, Virgin Media and Freesat will offer audiences access to the 24 live streams, while there will also be an additional 24-hour channel of extra BBC Olympics content available via the red button for users with Freeview and BT Vision.
"From even more extensive coverage on TV, radio and online to mobile phones and tablets there will be unlimited content available. The technology is now in place to offer the ultimate choice for our viewers and there will be times when we will have up to 24 screens of sport," says Roger Mosey, BBC director of London 2012.
The two main broadcast buildings, the Media Press Centre and the International Broadcast Centre may provide a lasting broadcasting and media legacy for the area.
However, this plan was set back when the BBC rejected the idea of moving the production of their flagship peaktime soap opera 'Eastenders' from Elstree in Hertfordshire to the IBC in the heart of London's East End. The location even boasts the same fictional postcode, E20, that features in the show. LOCOG claims that there are still many prestige organisations interested in moving into both buildings after the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
LOGOC's Paul Deighton highlights the fact that the Media Press Centre is a 32-storey office block where an estimated 1.6 million cups of tea will be drunk over the 17 days of the Games. It is incredible figures such as this that will help sell the rental space to prospective tenants after the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games.
Although the lack of an established prestige broadcast tenant will mean that this is unlikely to be a significant broadcasting hub for the UK in the future, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has attracted interest from Silicon Valley and dot com companies who would prefer a better equipped campus-style location than Silicon Roundabout in the Shoreditch area of London.
Whoever ends up occupying the prestigious office space in London will be assured that communications, the key to any business, will be well provided for.
Four temporary Super Hi-Vision cinemas are set to be created by the BBC for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The live Super Hi-Vision pictures will be streamed across the JANET (Joint Academic NETwork) research network, a 20 Gigabit high-bandwidth IP network, taken to Washington via other academic networks, and be streamed to Tokyo and Osaka by NTT communications global IP network.
Super Hi-Vision, which has been trialled for several years by the BBC, is so detailed that it enables cameras to capture an entire sports field in one static shot.
For some events the camera won't be moved at all, giving viewers a real sense of being at the actual event.
Japan's national broadcaster NHK is seeing London 2012 as a test for future events, and if candidate city Tokyo gets the 2020 Olympics there could already be a live domestic Super Hi-Vision TV channel in Japan.
Although it's largely a projection technology, Sharp showed-off a prototype 85in 8K-capable LCD panel at the International Broadcasting Convention last year.
Most of the footage will be recorded and edited for future broadcast. Panasonic will be supplying P2 custom recording and capture equipment which, despite being the size of a server farm, will only be able to capture two hours of footage before the capture cards are swapped over.
The Super Hi-Vision cameras that are capable of providing 16 times more detail than the average 1080p HD display were also on show at CES in Las Vegas this January. Uncompressed Super Hi-Vision transmits at around a whopping 24 gigabits a second data rate, which is compressed down to 260 Megabits a second over IP Network.
To accompany the picture, NHK engineers are also developing an advanced audio system that will accompany the visual broadcast with a total of 24 speakers.
A bank of nine speakers are placed on the upper level with 10 running along the middle. The lowest level will have three speakers with two speakers used for bass.
Olympic Broadcasting Timeline
First televised games by Telefenken and Fernseh. 162,000 viewers watched the competition in special viewing booths, called public television offices, in Berlin and Potsdam
The first time events were broadcast with multiple cameras. The BBC was the host broadcaster. Half a million viewers in Britain were able to watch the 64 hours of Olympic programming
1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo (Winter)
Thanks to the European Broadcasting Union’s Eurovision landline, these winter games were broadcast live outside the host nation for the first time
The first time satellites were used to broadcast the games around the world
The games were broadcast in colour for the very first time
The Olympics are broadcast around the world in HD for the first time
London will be the first time that the entire games will be broadcast in HD. 3D will be available extensively. Also, some of the footage will be shot in Super Hi-Vision (16k) and broadcast to large screens in the UK and Tokyo.
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