Beijing - television's last "take it or leave it" Olympic coverage?
By Adam TURNER
Hopefully by 2012, multi-channelling and the internet will let Australians watch the Olympics the way it suits them, rather than the way it suits the television networks.
Australia's Seven network has confirmed that it won't be using its high definition channel to show extra events during this month's Olympic games - what you see on the SD and HD channels will be exactly the same. Thankfully Seven has continued its Olympics coverage deal with SBS, so viewers will still have some choice.
Under the agreement, Seven will have exclusive coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field, swimming, rowing, cycling and gymnastics and will also provide coverage of "other sports featuring Australians". SBS will broadcast complementary coverage likely to focus on long-form events such as football, road cycling, volleyball and table tennis.
In other words, Seven's coverage will be for patriots with short attention spans while SBS will get the scraps. Thankfully between them they'll apparently broadcast 800 hours of Olympic coverage. You'll also get some of Seven's coverage on Next G mobile phones, plus there'll be 100 hours of streaming from Yahoo!7 - but these will most likely just be Seven's telecast reformatted rather than extra coverage. It's also unclear how much of the online and mobile coverage will be live.
By the time the London games roll around in 2012, hopefully we'll see a very different media landscape. Australia's television networks will be allowed to multi-channel in standard definition digital as of 2009, so hopefully the practice will be well entrenched by 2012. By then we should be in the final stages of phasing out analogue broadcasts.
The Nine Network and Foxtel have jointly won the broadcast rights to the 2012 London Olympics and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and are promising Australia's most comprehensive Olympic coverage ever - across free to air, subscription, internet and mobile.
Multi-channelling should force networks to completely reconsider the way they televise events such as the Olympics, from a content, advertising and broadcast rights perspective. Unfortunately Nine's deal with Foxtel means Nine is unlikely to multi-cast the Games in 2012 and the extra channels will be locked away on pay TV. Even so, the takeup of PVRs such TiVo and iQ2 will give viewers far greater control over what they watch and when they watch it. The idea of networks dictating what screens in our lounge rooms should be fading by 2012, although they'll obviously continue to fight tooth and nail against such threats to their power.
Along with multi-channelling, the rise of internet television will revolutionise the way we watch the Olympics - fuelled by improved broadband speeds. If we get our act together on the National Broadband Network, hopefully major sports in 2012 will have their own dedicated online channels so die-hard fans can catch every minute of every event. It's already happening in other countries but, as usual, Australia lags behind.
For a taste of what Australia's 2012 Olympic coverage might offer, you can look to what NBC is doing this year for Beijing. An impressive 3,600 hours of coverage will be seen on seven free to air and cable NBC Universal networks: NBC, USA, MSNBC, CNBC, Oxygen, Telemundo and Universal HD, as well as NBCOlympics.com. Of this 2,200 hours of this will be via NBCOlympics.com, which claims to be offering the first live online Olympic coverage in the United States. Unfortunately, due to the fact NBC is in bed with Microsoft, it looks like the content will only be available to Windows Vista users.
In the UK, the BBC has also embraced multi-channelling and the internet. The BBC is broadcasting 300 hours of coverage of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games this year on BBC One and BBC Two, plus 2,450 hours on its BBCi digital interactive channel. Online, Brits will be able to choose from six streaming channels showing coverage from BBC TV and BBC interactive.
Seven's deals with SBS, Yahoo!7 and Telstra Next G are obviously steps in the right direction, but they still seem like token efforts compared to what viewers getting in other countries. It will be interesting to see how the media landscape changes by 2012.
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