Less than two months from opening of Beijing Games Romero, BOB focus on IBC and transition to all-HD

By Ken Kerschbaumer
In slightly less than two months the sports world’s attention will turn to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Games beginning on August 8. For Manolo Romero, Beijing Olympic Broadcasting (BOB) general manager and his team the next eight weeks will be critical to ensure that more than 3,800 hours of HD content will be pulled in from the venues and passed out to viewers around the globe. “We are about 90% finished with the IBC installation and the most important part will be making sure it works,” says Romero of the 150,000 sq. ft. facility that will be home to more than 140 broadcasters during the Games. A soft launch of the facility is set for July 8. And despite press reports of difficulties in gearing up Romero is optimistic that, like in past games, all will go well.

The facilities will be similar in form and function to previous Olympic broadcast centers but there will be one major difference. This year’s Olympics are the first to be completely produced in high definition, bringing a new level of difficulty to the operation.

“We’ve made the extra effort to get everything in native HD and if we aren’t 100% HD we’ll be very close with the possible exception of a couple of POV cameras,” says Romero. “Our goal after Athens was to go all HD and we’ve been able to accomplish not only with HD cameras but also other technology like servers, LCD monitors, and super high-speed cameras.”

Romero says the BOB team will be cognizant of the majority of the world’s viewers who are still watching the games in standard definition 4:3. A number of educational seminars have been designed for BOB personnel to ensure they best meet the needs of all of the world’s broadcasters.

For example, coverage of track and field within the Bird’s Nest Stadium will involved more than 70 cameras and seven mobile units (more than 70 mobile units will be in Beijing with the majority of them currently in transit from Europe). The International Television and Radio (ITVR) signal or the World Feed from the Bird’s Nest will give broadcasters with fewer resources a chance to deliver a high-quality production.

“The ITVR signal contains graphics, replays and natural sound from the venues, but not commentators, interviews or advertising,” says Romero. “Rights Holding Broadcasters then supplement the ITVR signals with their own specific production elements, using their own play-by-play commentary, on-camera interviews and sometimes their own cameras.”

Domestically it will be NBC Olympics that will benefit most from the hardwork at BOB. “An enormous amount of the credit goes to [Beijing Olympic Broadcasting General Manager] Manolo Romero,” says David Neal, NBC Olympics senior vice president. “Manolo has established the gold standard for world feed coverage and he pressed for the games this year to be done in HD. And the Chinese, to their credit, stepped up to the challenge.”

More than 4,000 BOB personnel will be on hand for the 3,800 hours of HD content creation. More than 12,000 broadcasters from around the world, representing 140 different broadcast organizations, will occupy the IBC.

“We like to be in the background,” says Romero. “We don’t need to be known, just provide a standard of excellence that has been achieved through the years.”