London, U.K.'s Channel 4 Gear Up for Paralympic Games

10:44 AM PST 08/27/2012 by George Szalai

After the successful Summer Games, which drew record ratings, the event is expected to sell out and bring its TV home a slight profit.

LONDON -- After the Summer Olympics, which brought London high marks for its organizational skills and the BBC record viewership, the British capital is gearing up for the Paralympics, which kick off Wednesday.

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Organizers and the International Paralympic Committee said Monday that 2.4 million tickets to events at the Paralympic Games have sold so far -- more than ever before in the event's history. Organizers have targeted to sell all approximately 2.5 million tickets. With only some tickets remaining, observers have predicted the Games for disabled athletes could indeed sell out for the first time ever.

With London ready for more sports at the end of what's been dubbed here the "Summer of Sports," Britain's Channel 4 is also gearing up for a big Paralympics outing.

The public service broadcast network has promised the most extensive coverage of the Paralympic Games ever broadcast in the U.K. with more than 150 hours of programming over the 12 days of the Games on TV and online at Channel4.com. This year marks the first time that the BBC won't cover the Paralympics.

Channel 4 CEO David Abraham told the Edinburgh International Television Festival last week that it was hoping to break even with the Paralympics, but advertising sales have exceeded expectations, meaning the Games should bring in a slight profit.

But he has cautioned that the coverage may not be as high-end as the Summer Olympics presentation by the BBC, which drew record ratings. He told the Independent that a lack of support from foreign broadcasters means that while 147 international networks contributed to the pooled Olympic Broadcasting Service coverage of the Summer Games, only 16 are part of the Paralympics.

Channel 4 is the only international broadcaster covering the games in full, he added.

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"We want and expect this to have the kind of lasting impact it deserves to have, and it would be great if we were able to bid for and continue to run the Paralympics in four years time when it's in Brazil," he told the paper.

After beating the BBC in an auction for the TV rights two years ago with a 9 million pounds ($14.2 million) bid, Channel 4 has prepared for the big event. It has recently aired well-received promotional spots with disabled competitors.

Abraham believes interest from more viewers than usual given that Britain founded Paralympic sports, hosted the successful Summer Games where it won many medal, and British Paralympians did well in Beijing in 2008.

"Having said that it is different from the Olympics, we have a much smaller number of countries and the majority are running highlights," Abraham said. "We are the only broadcaster in the world doing it on the scale of the Olympics in relative terms."

London will host the 16th Paralympic Games from Aug. 29 until Sept. 9.

London organizers have bet on affordable ticket prices, saying that three-quarters cost only £20 ($31.30) or less.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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