THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Bringing the Games to the world

JOHN HOWSE December 7 1987
THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Bringing the Games to the world

JOHN HOWSE December 7 1987

Bringing the Games to the world

In Beijing, the gala performance will begin at 4 a.m. In Moscow, it will dazzle viewers at 11 p.m. and in London, 8 p.m. Next Feb. 13 at 1 p.m.

sharp 60,000 people at McMahon Stadium in Calgary are to witness “live” the opening ceremonies of the XV Olympic Winter Games. But thanks to miles of coaxial cables, dozens of television networks and a vital handful of satellites, an estimated three billion TV viewers around the world will share the experience. Said Ralph Mellanby, 53, executive producer of the Canadian Television Network Host Broadcaster (CTV HB): “TV is the biggest team at these Games.”

Indeed, when the 16day 1988 Winter Olympic Games open in Calgary, members of television crews will outnumber the athletes 3,500 to 2,600. Covering 14 events—from alpine skiing to demonstration rodeo—TV crews will provide an Olympic record 550 hours of TV coverage from the Games’ venues. At the same time, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s radio network will transmit more than 280 hours of Games coverage. Relaying the video to the United States will be the ABC network, which paid an Olympic record $309 million for that right. Explained Mellanby: “Delivering the Games to the world is the organizing committee’s biggest reponsibility.”

To that end, the organizing committee of Olympiques Calgary Olympics (OCO), is paying CTV $55 million to be the host broadcaster. And OCO gave the CBC the Games’ radio rights for $50,000, despite another bid. Said Michael McEwen, vice-president of CBC radio program operations: “We bid with our program. OCO argued that other radio broadcasters were talking dollars. We countered with what we would do.”

At ABC, executives were not amused by the dealings they had encountered in Lausanne, Switzerland. Roone Arledge, group president of ABC News and

Sports—high bidder in a unique television-rights auction staged by OCO in Lausanne in 1984—denounced the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for what he called a “betrayal” of ABC. During a visit to Calgary, Arledge pointed out that ABC has broadcast the Olympics since 1960 and that because of the record price, the network expects to face a shortfall in advertising revenue of about $30 million on its Calgary coverage. The IOC, Arledge contended, should have allowed for ABC’s “custodial” relationship to the

Games. But the final bid of the rival NBC TV network was $5 million lower than ABC’s.

Still, allowances have been made. While OCO has refused to renegotiate ABC’s fee, it stopped short of selling U.S. cable TV rights to ABC’s competitors. In Canada, OCO sold cable TV late-night viewing rights to The Sports Network for $80,000. OCO also accommodated ABC by scheduling the opening ceremonies at 1 p.m. MST to fit into the network’s highprofile Saturday afternoon sports programming. And for the first time in Olympics history, the Games will be played out over three, not two, weekends, with the closing ceremonies in the prime evening viewing hours across North America. In fact, high-profile events—such as alpine skiing, hockey

and figure skating—are scheduled for the best weekend advertising periods.

Ottawa also made a special deal to provide limited coverage to Frenchspeaking households across the country. In late November the federal government and OCO agreed to subsidize production costs of Radio Canada to bring TV coverage of the Games in French to 700,000 Canadian francophones outside of Quebec. The province itself is served by TVA, the French-language affiliate of CTV. Under the agreement, Radio Canada will be permitted to broadcast open-

ing and closing ceremonies and daily one-hour news summaries.

The Calgary Olympics will be hightech Games with an emphasis on the sounds of sport. “I want to hear the ski jumpers breathing as they get ready to start, the pop after they jump and the thump as they hit the ground,” said Mellanby, a three-time Emmy award winner and Hockey Night in Canada executive producer for 18 years.

CTV’s Games plan links mobile units and commentators at venues to broadcast crews in the 120,000-square-foot state-of-the-art International Broadcast Centre (IBC). Then, by cable and microwave, events will be fed to satellites and broadcast to more than 40 countries. Foreign networks can accept continuous coverage, select specific

events or daily summaries, booking time on four satellite dishes operated by Telesat Canada. Teleglobe Canada’s 43-foot-diameter dish—in Stampede Park—is capable of simultaneously transmitting eight TV signals and up to 180 commentaries to a satellite over the Atlantic. ABC will use two dishes to feed its New York City headquarters. By the Games’ end, more than 2,000 hours of programming will be transmitted globally via satellite.

The complex logistics were mapped by Marius Moráis, CTV’s former executive director of engineering and technical operations. Moráis, who engineered CBC’s coverage of Expo 67 and the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, died suddenly of a heart attack on Nov. 20 in Calgary. “These games are a monument to him,” said Mellanby. “It’s his plan, and he had it all ready for us.”

That plan will permit viewers to hear the wind as ski jumpers glide over Canada Olympic Park. Microphones fixed at the penalty box and the teams’ benches at the Saddledome will relay the genuine—if X-rated—sounds of Olympic hockey. State-of-the-art sound techniques may transform even the 10,000-m indoor speed skating race into “truly exciting television,” according to CTV producer Martij n Lindenberg.

To underline his emphasis on natural sound, the CTV’s Mellanby sent briefing books to his network clients detailing when their commentators should be quiet. Couch potatoes the world over may be moved to stand and cheer if Mellanby’s dicta are followed. Said Mellanby: “In a cross-country race, I want to hear the skier panting up the hill, not the commentator. Too many of them don’t know when to shut up. And too many producers are scared of their own big-name commentators.”

CTV HB’s high-tech armory also includes the world’s longest television lens, which will zoom in on downhill skiers two kilometres away with a 60times magnification power. Opening and closing ceremonies will be televised with 360-degree shots from a movable camera hung at centre field in McMahon Stadium. And one CTV cameraman is in special athletic training on IBC staircases. Wearing braces and a non-jar camera, he will accompany the Olympic torchbearer as he circles McMahon Stadium, before mounting the 25-step podium to light the Games cauldron during the opening ceremonies. Says Mellanby: “People expect our coverage to be better than the Los Angeles Olympics.” Given the preparation and the technology, there is a very good chance it will be.

JOHN HOWSE