Canada backyard Olympics coverage gears up

Could become most-watched event in Canadian TV history

TORONTO -- Like a general keeping his army working, moving and communicating, Canadian sports broadcaster Rick Chisholm is directing traffic among 1,400 production staff and crew in the throes of preparation for the Vancouver Olympics.

As executive vp broadcasting for Canada's Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium, comprising 12 Canuck networks, Chisholm knows the Feb. 12-28 Games, with so much splash and spectacle in Canada's own backyard, could well become the most-watched event in Canadian TV history.

"The world's watching your city and your country, and you want to make sure your country represents itself well," he said.

Canadian expertise in producing hockey, figure skating, curling and short track speed skating telecasts means Chisholm his team will provide core feeds of those marquee events to the IOC's Olympic Broadcasting Service, the host broadcaster for the 2010 Olympics.

That has Chisholm overseeing from his base at the IOC's International Broadcast Center (IBC) in Vancouver six standing sets for separate Games coverage by Canadian networks CTV, V, The Sports Network (TSN), Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, the French language sports channel.

The main CTV network will anchor the consortium's English-language coverage, with French-language "big moment" coverage coming from the V network in Quebec.

And three sport channels -- TSN, RDS and Rogers Sportsnet -- will offer live, start-to-finish coverage of key events.

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The biggest Canadian audiences at Vancouver are expected to come from live telecasts of hockey games, curling matches, alpine ski races, and figure and speed skating events.

In all 86 technical specialists and engineers will work round the clock during the Games to keep seven control rooms, six studios and 22 edit suites in smooth operation over three floors in the IBC complex.

Chisholm has another two sets in Whistler, one an outdoor studio from where CTV hosts Jennifer Hedger and Michael Landsberg will broadcast live to Canadians 22 hours a day.

The all-HD with 5.1 surround sound Games means the Canadian broadcast consortium will have 37 high definition cameras at the IBC and moving about Vancouver and Whistler.

The Canadian consortium will also strategically smaller cameras throughout the sporting events, including lightweight helmet cams on skiing and snow-boarding competitors that give permission.

More than one million feet of broadcast cable was purchased ahead of the Games to ensure everyone and everything stays connected.

And while Canadians will have access to NBC's coverage of the Games, and cross-border Americans may tune into CTV's feed as an alternative to the American coverage, Chisholm insists both networks have cooperated in the run-up to the 2010 event.

The CTV and Rogers-led consortium is new to Olympics coverage after it beat out rival broadcaster CBC for the exclusive rights to the 2010 and 2012 winter and summer games five years ago.

So the Canadian consortium turned to NBC for advice, as was able to send a dozen people to observe the U.S. network's production of the 2008 Beijing Games.

"The experience we gained from that was invaluable," Chisholm recalls.

And while NBC prefers to run the biggest Olympic events live in primetime, and tape if not, the Canadian consortium promises live, round-the-clock coverage of the Vancouver Games.

Having promised Canadians live, multiplatform coverage of every second of every Winter Olympics competition -- or more than 4,800 hours of coverage in 22 languages on 12 television channels, 20 radio stations and two dedicated websites – Chisholm said there will be less focus than on NBC for up-close-and-personal-story-telling features.

"We are not dictating to the audience how they watch the Games. We're making it available to allow them to watch the Games the way they want to," he added, as the consortium, plans 2,350 hours of online coverage through the Games, to complement 2,250 hours of coverage on TV and 200 hours on radio.

That TV coverage of Vancouver 2010 will be more than double the 1,009 hours made available by the CBC in English and French for the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.