Beijing Olympic Broadcasting Settles In For Testing Phase With One Month Until Games
With the 2008 Beijing Olympics officially one month away Manolo Romero, General Manager of Beijing Olympic Broadcasting (BOB) and his team are gearing up for the test phase of the International Broadcast Center and a fleet of OB vans and flypacks are travelling via boat and plane for final setup at the venues later this month. Romero spoke to SVG’s Ken Kerschbaumer about what makes the 2008 Games special and what lies ahead for the Beijing Games and beyond.
SVG: Everyone around the world tends to view the Olympics production through one of their nation’s national network and BOB tends to be invisible. Can you shed a little light onto BOB and its role in the Beijing Games for those unfamiliar with BOB?
A: Our role is to produce an international signal that is used for by the broadcasters in different countries. We don’t need to be known to viewers and we like to be in the background. I want to believe that our broadcast partners support us and discuss with us the innovations we want to bring. We’ve been focused on achieving a standard of excellence through the years and building the trust of our broadcast partners.
Q: Can you explain that relationship with broadcast networks?
A: On one hand they are our “customers” and we need to make sure the facilities in the venues and the IBC help them do what they need to do to have the level of coverage they want. But the final decision for that level is in our hands and I believe our level of coverage for many sports sets the standard for excellence.
We want to provide consistent coverage of the 28 sports and while some sports, like swimming or track and field, have a level of coverage at the World Championships that is very high we’ve set the standard for many of the other Olympic sports.
Q: Do your relationships differ with different broadcasters?
A: There are many possibilities for what we can provide and we want to make sure each broadcaster does what they want. For the international signal we’ll deploy more equipment, with the exception of some of the traditional venues like the Bird’s Nest or the Aquatic Center. We’ll have 70 of our own cameras and seven OB vehicles at the Bird’s Nest that will create an integrated feed and six feeds with the different track and field events so the broadcaster can compose what they want. We’ll also have 44 camera positions available for broadcasters for live interviews in the Bird’s Nest and they can integrate their coverage with our coverage at the IBC.
Q: How are the preparations going?
A: The Chinese Olympic Committee has done an excellent job with the venues and many of them will be outstanding, both in size and quality. We are convinced the stands will be full with Chinese and spectators and that will make it very vibrant.
Q: The transition to HD at the Olympics has been a fairly smooth one over the past six years. Why did you decide to make the move to all HD and how has that impacted the engineering process?
A: The goal after Athens was to go all HD and we’ve able to accomplish that thanks to not only HD cameras but also servers, LCD displays, super high-speed cameras, and other new developments. We’ve gone to extra lengths to get everything in native HD and there might be a couple of POV cameras that aren’t HD but it we aren’t 100% HD we will be very close. We’re experimenting with things even as we speak.
It feels like 100 years ago. We aren’t thinking in SD anymore and we remind the producers to make sure they are careful for framing of 4:3 but otherwise we’ve been organizing seminars on HD. In Surround Sound production, for example, there are high-quality operators that have different ideas of what to do for different sports. So we want to make sure we have the technology and also know how to properly use it.
Q: What event will be the most technically challenging to go all HD?
A: The marathon [and cycling events] because it is not only in HD but we wanted to do more and improve the coverage versus the use of traditional motorbikes and helicopters. Low-latency microwave HD systems will be used and we’re not relying on helicopters for anything but backup transmission.
Q: I’m sure you don’t like to play favorites but how does Beijing compare to other host cities? What advice can you give the thousands of freelancers and staffers from around the world who will descend on Beijing so they have a sense of the cultural differences and challenges?
A: Every Olympics is a different culture and a different way of looking at things. We try very hard to work with the organizing committee. In the case of Beijing, Western broadcasters will find it more difficult to communicate so we have to make sure we have enough interpreters. We’re also training our Chinese staff on the technology we’ll be using.
Q: Looking ahead to the Winter Games in Vancouver what should we expect in terms of changes from 2006? Will the alpine events make the leap to HD?
A: Vancouver will be fully HD and we’ll have many of the same bells and whistles we’ll have in Beijing.
Q: Is 1080p something on the horizon? How about 3D HD for special events?
A: NHK has been doing some 3D at the Olympics since the 1990s but it’s far from becoming a standard service. We want to provide a standard of excellence and also meet the minimum requirements of broadcasters. And the production investment is so huge that we can’t serve a niche service like 3D HD.