Digital coverage is a world-beater for the new era

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If leading broadcasters around the world have it right, the Beijing Olympics will be ground zero for a new era in high-tech global sports coverage.

Plans are afoot among some of the most competitive broadcasters in the world to make these Games the target of the most intensive new-media barrage ever seen at an international event.

Australian consumers, for instance, will be served up a smorgasbord of Olympic content on their TV sets, personal video recorders, PCs and mobile phones, making this the most widely digitally distributed Olympics in Aussie broadcast history.

Britain's BBC is marching to a similar high-tech tune, from more hours on TV to increased streams on broadband to showing for the first time mobile video of various sports. The Beijing Olympics also will be the first Games to be shown in HD in the U.K., with about 300 HD hours planned for broadcast on the BBC's digital satellite channels.

Beijing also will be the first Olympics for which the BBC has secured mobile video rights.

For the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Beijing will be all about letting the Internet and mobile high jumps begin.

The CBC, which owns the domestic broadband rights to the 2008 Games, plans first-time live streaming video from Beijing for Canadians at home, at work or on the go. The goal is to make Beijing the first Olympics to fully exploit Canada's emerging broadband technologies as profit centers.

In the U.S., NBC Universal is planning a tsunami of online, mobile and VOD to provide 24/7 coverage.

In Asia, Discovery will offer Olympics content on the Discovery Mobile WAP sites across Asia in the lead-up to the Games.

Some international broadcasters are reluctant to talk about their Beijing coverage plans, saying that their blueprints are not in final draft form.

For instance, local Singapore broadcasters (MediaCorp, which has Olympics rights, and cable company StarHub) said it's too early to talk about their mobile/tech strategies for the Olympics.

But overall, the message is clear. It's a high-tech championship season for broadcast world leaders, said Scott Moore, executive director of CBC Sports.

"We see the Beijing Olympics as the first where major Canadian advertisers will shift significant marketing dollars to the Internet or mobile platforms," he said.

In the U.K., Ben Gallop, head of BBC Sport Interactive, promised, "Our ultimate ambition is to show every sport as it is happening."

Taken together, the BBC will show a third more hours of sports across different platforms in the U.K. for the Beijing Olympics than it did for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

"We are looking at the Olympics in the round and we want to be fair to every sport. All sports will get some kind of window on BBC One and BBC Two, but we will also be able to offer much more coverage on the interactive streams," Gallop said.

In Australia, where 3G mobile phone subscribers are still on the increase, Chris Walton, CEO of media buying group MindShare, predicts that the 2008 Olympics will "be the coming of age for 3G telephony."

"The Olympics are tailor-made for bite-size pieces of coverage on mobile or laptops and other forms of hand-held devices as most track and swimming events are over in 60 seconds or less," he said.

If 3G mobile content will "come of age" Down Under, online coverage is being ramped up for the 80% of Australian Internet users that have a broadband connection.

Yahoo 7 is planning an online presence that will include exclusive streaming video of some live events, podcasts and video casts, "catch up TV," athlete's blogs, results and news feeds. The Seven Network is giving Yahoo 7 up to five hours a day of individual event highlights and packages that will include the events, postevent athlete and coach interviews and commentary. In addition, Yahoo 7 is sending its own fully accredited editorial team, reporting and broadcasting online from Games sites and the Olympic Village.

According to Yahoo 7 CEO Rohan Lund, the Olympics will be the single biggest driver of Internet traffic in 2008.

Highlighting the technological shifts that will make this year's Games potentially the most-watched sporting event in history, CBC's Moore points out, "There was little, if any, video a year ago. Now we're getting on the sports side up to 40,000 hits a day watching various video on our site."

Moore argues that, as Canadians gain increasing access to broadband content, they want to watch what they want when they want it. And clearly that goes for the rest of the world too.

Pip Bulbeck reported from Sydney; Kate Bulkley reported from London. Etan Vlessing in Toronto and Janine Stein in Singapore contributed to this report.
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