Home >> June 2008 Edition >> Let The Games Begin… in China
Let The Games Begin… in China
by Silvano Payne, Hartley & Pattie Lesser,
Kevin and Michael Fleck

According to legend, the ancient Olympic Games were founded by Heracles (the Roman Hercules) — one of Zeus’ sons. The first Olympic Games, for which we still maintain written records, were held in 776 BC.

Approximately 1,500 years later, a young Frenchman named Pierre de Coubertin decided to revive the games, thereby giving him the moniker, le Rénovateur. In 1892, Coubertin constructed an international committee to organize the Games.

Two years later, this committee became the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Demetrious Vikelas from Greece was selected to as the organization’s first president. Athens was selected as the site for the revived Olympic Games and the planning was underway for this, now annual, mega-sporting event where the “best of the best” compete.

The Beijing Olympic Games are expected to find some 800,000 visitors arriving in town for the 17-day event. China is spending approximately $160 billion for public works’ improvements and the event’s venues, including refurbished and new roads, subways, and sports’ stadiums.

With three-quarters of the games’ tickets set aside for the home market, overseas sales of the remaining available tickets are being handled by each country’s National Olympic Committee (NOC). Oh, by the way, don’t attempt to get into the games using a forged ticket! Each ticket will have embedded within it a wireless memory chip and specialty ink to dissuade counterfeit tickets.
In order to maintain a high level of services for the world’s press, the International Olympic Committee maintains a strict quota, as far as the media is concerned.

For the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, the IOC has set a limit of 5,600 for written and photographic press—the same held true for Athens 2004 and Sydney 2000. The accreditation numbers for rights’ holders are defined within the rights holders’ contracts, which total 4,000 for Beijing Olympic Broadcasting Co, Ltd. (BOB) and 12,000 for Rights’ Holding Broadcasters (RHBs). The Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG) has estimated that an additional 10,000 non-rights’ holding journalists will attend the Games. The BOCOG has also stated they will provide a media press center for non-registered journalists alongside the center for accredited media.

More than 200 countries will be represented at the Olympics through 12 rights-holding broadcasters. When the Games get under way, the staff will swell to more than 4,000 from approximately 35 countries.

With a little time remaining, BOB is now 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. BOB serves as the host 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.

“Such an intensive workload in a limited period of time needs a large amount of skilled staff, especially those with broadcasting experience of large sports events,” says BOB’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Ma Guoli. According to the BOB website, the Rights Holding Broadcasters include:
  • European Broadcasting Union (EBU)
  • National Broadcasting Company (NBC)
  • Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
  • Seven Network Ltd. (SEVEN)
  • Japan Consortium (JC)
  • Organización de Telecomunicaciones
  • Iberoamericanas (OTI)
  • Television New Zealand (New Zealand)
  • Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU)
  • African Union of Broadcasting (AUB)
  • Arab States Broadcasting Union (ASBU)
  • Korean Broadcasters Association (KBA)
  • Chinese Taipei Broadcast Pool (CTBP)
  • Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU)
  • South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)
As stated earlier, the IOC owns the broadcast rights for TV, mobile, and the Internet for the games. They must ensure the broadest news coverage of the event to the widest possible audience, with the TV rights sold to those broadcasters who can guarantee such coverage in their respective markets. The current estimate is that some 220 countries, or territories, will be broadcasting the games with the estimated broadcast revenue projected to be US$1.7 billion.

BOB is expected to provide international TV and radio signals with a combined total of 4,000 hours over 17 days. It is projected that a cumulative worldwide audience of more than 40 billion will watch the Olympics. The XXIX Olympiad in Beijing will find more than 16,000 employees of rights’-holding TV broadcast companies covering the games, which occurs from August 8th through the 24th, 2008. Olympic broadcast revenue distribution finds the IOC contributing 49 percent to the Organizing Committees for the Olympic Games (OCOG), and 51 percent to the Olympic Movement.

Additionally, back in December of 2007, the IOC signed an agreement with China Central Television International (CCTV) for Internet and mobile platform exhibition rights for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. With seven channels scheduled to blanket the games, their programming will also include a new HD channel as well as two payTV channels dedicated to soccer and tennis. The company estimates approximately 45 million subscribers outside of China watch their programming. The company’s satellite signals were converted to ChinaSat 6B (C-band) last August, a satellite owned by China Satellite Communication Corporation dedicated for TV broadcasting, and based on Alcatel Alenia Space’s Spacebus-4000C2 platform. The satellite packs 38 transponders and beams signals throughout Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Pacific Ocean. BOB will provide the programming for approximately 200 TV broadcast companies, and employment for about 12,000 workers.

The International Broadcast Center (IBC) is the heart of the Olympic broadcast operations, and also the headquarters for the world broadcasters. This is one of the key supportive venues for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and, together with the MPC, one of the first to become operational.

The IBC for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, with a usable space of 90,000 square meters, will be located in the newly-built National Convention Centre within the Beijing Olympic Green. To the west are the Main Press Center (MPC) and two media hotels. Located in the same complex, and to the south of the IBC, is the Fencing Hall. The IBC will offer easy access to Rights’ Holding Broadcasters to multiple sporting venues within the Beijing Olympic Green, including the National Stadium and the National Aquatics Centre.

The IBC will contain studios and production facilities for BOB as well as Rights Holding Broadcasters and will operate 24 hours a day. These games will be the first to be totally broadcast in HD.

This is partially due to the agreement between BOB and Panasonic regarding the use of the latter’s DVCPRO P2 HD series’ cameras. The DVCPRO P2 HD was named as the official recording format for the games back in 2006. This will allow the IBC the delivery of 1080/50i HD format video to all global rights-holder broadcasters. Panasonic is expected to provide 250 records, 100 camcorders, and 1,500 monitors.

Also granted “admission” to the Beijing event is MTV Networks China, which will produce a 20-episode entertainment guide to the city, and a nationwide contest for photos and videos that signify the spirit of the games. As far as Olympic Games’ broadcast coverage is concerned, what information we do have, as of this writing, is…

A joint venture between Seven Network Australia and Beijing Television (owned by the Beijing City Government) is about to deliver substantial revenues through the Beijing International Media Services Company (BMC) established for August’s Beijing Olympics. Dubbed an “opportunist production group” by one of its competitors, the BMC has become the one-stop shop for global broadcasters and the prime live site for telecasts during the Games. The BMC will provide broadcast expertise, locations, studios, wiring, translators, transport, accommodation and anything else non-Chinese broadcasters need during the Olympics.

There is an embarrassing situation developing for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (a national organization). The 5000 sq. meter BMC site in the Pangu Plaza will provide tenants (presently including the Nine Network, ESPN, and Fuji TV) a better backdrop than the backdrop seen from the International Broadcast Centre within the official green zone.

BMC overlooks Beijing’s two landmark stadiums, the “water cube” Olympic Swimming Center and the “bird’s nest” Beijing National Stadium; BOCOG’s official IBC for rights’ holders has a nondescript cityscape view that has official rights’ holders, including the BBC, scrambling to the BMC. However, there is still some uncertainty about whether the Chinese authorities will permit non-rights holder media access to live shots, including official Olympic infrastructure.

On a smaller scale, Global Vision Networks of Sydney, Australia, is providing live, stand-up and tape playout from four ‘iconic’ locations around Beijing. These are designed to give non-rights’ holder media a range of locations from which to select. A relative new comer to the Olympic broadcast game, Global Vision, has been operating across Asia for more than 15 years. They will uplink out of Beijing on Asiasat 4, with turnaround to Genesis fiber in Singapore and Hong Kong for connection to the rest of the world.

Eurovision is committed to bringing a comprehensive Olympic TV, radio, and multimedia coverage of the Olympic Games to the largest possible audience in the Eurovision territory. For the Winter Olympic Games 2006 in Turin, more than 500 transmissions were booked and more than 800 hours of Olympic coverage was offered on its worldwide satellite and fiber networks.

Eurovision broadcasters and sublicensees also provided live, and deferred, moving images of the games over a number of new media distribution platforms such as broadband Internet, IPTV, and mobile devices. That was in addition to the more than 7,800 hours of TV coverage scheduled across the Eurovision territories.

Through this wide range of sublicensing and cooperative agreements, the EBU provides state-of-the art services to the widest possible audience, complementing extensive TV coverage together with access over new media platforms. Additionally, throughout the games, Eurovision provides production and transmissions’ services to both rights’-holders and non-rights’ holders through its setup at the International Broadcast Centre and the Eurovision News and Network production services.

The European Broadcasting Union remains the Olympic Torch bearer for European broadcasting and is proud to be the European rights’-holder for the 2008 Beijing, 2010 Vancouver, and 2012 London Olympic Games.

Already, Eurovision teams are making plans to ensure that broadcasters will receive the quality production and transmission services for these Games.

Indonesia’s major networks determined that a $1.35 million price tag was too expensive, though they are willing to dish out $10 million to air the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Using their own satellites, Russian Satellite Communications Company (RSCC) and the firm responsible for FIX communications services at the games, China Netcom (Group) Company (CNC), signed an agreement for international satellite TV transmissions.

Both firms engaged in HD testing from March of 2006 through August of last year to determine the feasibility of using Express-AM satellites and CNC’s terrestrial engineering facilities to provide viable transmission services.

As of April 23rd of this year, the Express-AM33 satellite was made operational at 96.5° E and is now part of the RSCC in-orbit constellation. The satellite’s footprint covers Central Asia, Mongolia, China, as well as Russia and Kazakhstan and offers C- and Ku-band services.

The rights to broadcast the games on the Internet, IPTV, and mobile TV in Taiwan were won by Taiwanese telco Chunghwa Telecom. This will certainly afford the company the ability to promo their full range of services. China Television Company retains the payTV platform rights. NBC is paying about $800 million for broadcast rights to the Olympics in the U.S. NBC expects to net a record $1 billion in ad sales for its Olympic coverage. The network will also share with USA, MSNBC, CNBC, as well as their USA HD and Universal HD affiliates. Telemunod, NBC Universal’s Spanish-language station, will also receive Olympic Game feeds.

NBC has already launched their Olympic Games website which will offer more than 2,000 hours of live streaming. Additionally, AT&T/NBC have contracted SES NEW SKIES for occasional use services out of Beijing for Olympic coverage through their satellites. This service has also been contracted by the BBC in the United Kingdom, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) as well as Brazil’s TV Globo. SES NEW SKIES owns and operates a global fleet of seven satellites in orbit.

Olympics Censorship?
For the 20,000 foreign journalists expected to cover the Beijing Olympics, the most pressing issue will be their freedom to report and analyze the Games without government interference. Government ownership of almost all Olympic-related media infrastructure—from outgoing and incoming wire-line and wireless communications, including telephone and Internet connections, international radio and television signals for broadcasting rights holders, and transmission hardware for all television and radio broadcasts destined for international rights holders—will enable the Chinese to edit what they term offending broadcasts as well as engage in transmission interference.

Global Vision’s China manager, Kevin Fleck, has been directing the company’s efforts to clarify the Chinese authorities position on censorship, as well as more mundane, but no less important matters. These include registration of non-rights’ holder media, and media access to suitable locations such as the Great Wall. He said,“The interesting thing about the whole censorship issue is that the Chinese know they cannot possibly monitor all the traffic, let alone stop transmissions they don’t like. For example, we will have both a Rome TV station and Egyptian TV going live at 1800—at 1815, it will be Madrid and Warsaw. That’s four-language transmissions in 30 minutes. And that’s just our schedule! Censoring such a huge volume of diverse traffic in such a short period of time is just not possible.”

In addition, Fleck’s sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintain that outbound reporting from China is not a focus for them.

BIMC (Beijing International Media Center—not the Channel 7 BMC) is charged with registering and assisting the non-rights holder media. They have given assurances to Global Vision that censors will not be assigned to monitor transmissions. In fact, BIMC has gone to some length to assure the company that, “China welcomes the foreign media—we are here to help you.”