Source: New York Times
While some American television viewers are grumbling about the retro feel to NBC’s London Olympics coverage, with tape-delayed broadcasts of the opening ceremony and other events, audiences in Britain are getting a more contemporary — even futuristic — TV Games.
There, BBC is providing marathon coverage — 2,500 hours of programming during the more than two weeks of the Games. At the touch of a button on their remote controls, viewers can choose among as many as 24 live feeds of various events, whether basketball or fencing.
“We wanted to give people every venue, from first thing in the morning to last thing at night,” said Roger Mosey, director of BBC’s Olympics coverage.
London Olympics have provided a variety of television firsts. The last such Games, in 1948, were the first to be televised to people’s homes, for example.=
This time, BBC and NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster, are testing a new technology — so-called Super Hi-Vision television, which they describe as providing 16 times the resolution of conventional high-definition television.
Super Hi-Vision is not available in homes yet and may not be until 2020 or so, executives say. But the technology is being used for a number of events with closed-circuit broadcasts on giant screens in London and Bradford, England; Glasgow; and Tokyo and Fukushima in Japan. A feed has also been provided to NBC for a screen in Washington.
“It’s better than 3-D,” Mr. Mosey said. “It’s like looking through a glass window at an event.”
Such broadcasts, which have been around for a few years, are the only ones among BBC’s Olympics offerings that have not lived up to expectations, Mr. Mosey said. Viewer numbers for other services have been strong, though there have been some missteps: technical problems that BBC attributed to the Olympics organizers’ broadcast services marred coverage of a cycling event.
Through the first six days of the Games, 45.4 million Britons had tuned in to at least 15 minutes of BBC’s coverage — more than during the three weeks of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 or the Athens Games in 2004. More than 16 million people have used the so-called Red Button service, which provides the live feeds.
“Live sport is as dominant as it ever was,” Kevin Alavy, managing director of the sports research unit of Initiative, a media buying agency. “When you’ve got more channels and more devices by which people can watch live, that will impact the programming.”
For the most part, NBC is offering live streaming only online, to pay-TV customers. NBC has built its Olympic coverage around edited prime-time packages of events that often took place several hours earlier. Despite some complaints from viewers and television critics, NBC’s audience figures and advertising numbers have been strong.
NBC, which paid nearly $1.2 billion for the rights to show the Games, gets most of its revenue from advertising. BBC receives most of its funding from the public, via a £145.50, or $225, license fee levied on TV-owning households.
Across most of Europe, the Olympics appear on public broadcasters like BBC. But not everywhere; in Italy, Sky Italia, a pay-TV company owned by News Corp., owns the rights.
The International Olympic Committee has always sought the largest possible television audiences. But new technological capabilities, like those being used by BBC and Sky Italia to make many feeds available simultaneously, may be subtly altering that goal, analysts say.
“The priority is still to get as many people as possible watching the Olympics,” said Ben Speight, an analyst at SportBusiness Group in London. “But now they also want the maximum amount of coverage, to give greater exposure to some of the minor sports.”
Mr. Mosey said that after the Beijing Games, which took place in a time zone seven hours ahead of London, he discussed with Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, whether it might make sense to delay broadcasts of the opening ceremony. BBC showed the ceremony live, in the afternoon, London time, but it might have attracted a higher audience in the prime-time evening hours.
Mr. Mosey said the broadcaster concluded that British viewers would not have accepted a delay.
“We respect what NBC is doing, but the BBC would have been absolutely killed if it had time-shifted the opening ceremonies,” he said.
© New York Times