London 2012: Public Broadcaster NHK Leading Olympics Coverage in Japan

4:31 PM PST 08/01/2012 by Gavin J. Blair

NHK is also showing off some of its new technology at the games, including its next-generation Super Hi-Vision format and a new camera for synchronized swimming.

TOKYO – With public broadcaster NHK having linked up with the five main commercial stations through the Japan Consortium to secure and deliver Olympic programming, Japanese audiences are enjoying almost blanket coverage of London 2012. Live broadcasts, many beginning at 4 a.m. Tokyo time, are followed by replays and digest programs through the day, as well as news and analysis on almost every daytime variety show.

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The Japan Consortium paid $426 million for an all-rights package for the Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 Games, with NHK offering online live streaming and replays of up to 20 events a day across eight Internet channels that can be accessed on computers, tablets and smartphones, in addition to TV broadcasts on both satellite and terrestrial channels. NHK is also running a free trial of its Hi-Vision HD format for limited events on Internet-connected TVs.

Friday night's opening ceremony, with its 4.30 a.m. Saturday morning local start time, had nearly a quarter of of households in the greater Tokyo area tuning in to public broadcaster NHK's live coverage by 5 a.m., compared to the 37.3 percent who watched the opening of the Beijing Games at a far more attractive 9 p.m. on a Friday evening in 2008, according to data from Video Research Ltd. Audiences for the opening ceremony peaked just after 8.30 a.m. at 38.4 percent when the fireworks lit up the sky over London – summer firework displays draw huge crowds in Japan.

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By 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, the audience for the end of NHK's live broadcast of the Japanese women's soccer team match with Sweden – which ended in a draw, meaning Japan had qualified for the knockout stage of the tournament – had more than 40 percent of households in greater Tokyo tuning in. Nadeshiko Japan, as the women's team is known, are the reigning world champions, having beaten the USA in last year's world cup final in Germany. Despite a poor run of form this year, they remain massively popular at home, with high expectations of a medal in London.

As well as leading the domestic coverage of the Games, NHK is showcasing some of its new technology in London, including public viewings in the UK and Japan of its next-generation Super Hi-Vision format, which delivers 16 times the resolution of current high-definition TV.

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NHK's Twinscam, a specially-designed dual camera for synchronized swimming is being used at London 2012 for the first time at an Olympic Games. The technology, which consists of two cameras, one above the water and one below, allows for the two images to be synthesized, adjusting for the different refraction of light in air and water, into a single feed quickly enough for use in live broadcasts. The Twinscam has been used in Japan, where synchronized swimming is hugely popular, for live broadcasts since 2010.

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