Thursday, July 31, 2008

Countdown to the 2008 Beijing Olympics – Censorship and the Media

A week from today the biggest sports event in Chinese history begins with the Beijing Olympic Games opening ceremonies take place. Wednesday and Thursday the world media took notice of the Beijing Games, but the news had little to do with athletes getting ready to compete in events they have worked a lifetime to get ready for.

Instead the worst fears the International Olympic Committee must have had when they awarded the Games to China and Beijing on July 13, 2001 – reports from the Olympic Media Centre (which officially opened last Friday) suggest in no uncertain terms the Chinese government are censoring journalists from around the world who have traveled to China to report on the Games. Even scarier, published reports have reports email’s to their newspapers and media outlets being censored and/or being prevented from being delivered. The Red Chinese, China a communist country are back with all the venom and fear many have long believed would be a part of the Beijing Games.

It’s very important to remember that when China was bidding for the Olympics seven years ago, the Communist government assured the news media would have "complete freedom to report." That was one of several promises made at the time to ease Western fears regarding Beijing's oppression of political dissidents.

Chinese authorities confirmed late Wednesday that the 20,000 foreign journalists covering the Olympic Games will not have unrestricted access to the Internet during their stay. Kevin Gosper, the head of the IOC’s press commission, admitted Wednesday: “I also now understand that some IOC officials negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not considered games related.”

Yesterday Gosper said the IOC’s key concern was to “ensure that the media are able to report on the games as they did in previous games.”

Reporters Without Borders condemned the International Olympic Committee’s acceptance of the fact the Chinese authorities are blocking access to certain websites at the Olympic Games media centre in Beijing. More than 20,000 foreign journalists are affected.

The organization also condemned the cynicism of the Chinese authorities, who have yet again lied, and the IOC’s inability to prevent this situation because of its refusal to speak out for several years.

“Yet another broken promise!” the press freedom organization said. “Coming just nine days before the opening ceremony, this is yet another provocation by the Chinese authorities. This situation increases our concern that there will be many cases of censorship during the games. We condemn the IOC’s failure to do anything about this, and we are more than skeptical about its ability to ‘ensure’ that the media are able to report freely.”

Sun Weide, the chief spokesman for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG), said the authorities would only guarantee “sufficient” Internet access for accredited media.

The Internet that foreign journalists in China can access is only relatively free. Wednesday, they were unable to access a new Amnesty International report entitled “The Olympic countdown - broken promises” or the websites for many foreign media, such as the BBC’s Chinese-language service, the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily and the Taiwan-based Liberty Time. The Reporters Without Borders and Falungong spiritual movement websites were also inaccessible.

Last February, the IOC announced that athletes would be allowed to keep blogs during the games as they were “a legitimate form of personal expression and not a form of journalism” but it said the blogs would have to free of political content.

In reaction to the IOC statement, Mark Allison, East Asia researcher for Amnesty International said: "The International Olympic Committee and the Organizing Committee of the Beijing Olympic Games should fulfill their commitment to ‘full media freedom" and provide immediate uncensored internet access at Olympic media venues. Censorship of the internet at the Games is compromising fundamental human rights and betraying the Olympic values.

The IOC has on many occasions highlighted the loosening of restrictions on foreign media in China as an example of the promised improvement in human rights by the Chinese authorities through the hosting of the Olympics. On April 1, Gosper said that the continued blocking of some websites would "reflect very poorly" on the hosts. On July 17 Jacques Rogge, IOC President, said "there will be no censorship of the internet."

"This blatant media censorship adds one more broken promise that undermines the claim that the Games would help improve human rights in China," said Mark Allison.

On Monday July 29, Amnesty International published the report "Olympic Countdown: Broken Promises" which evaluated the performance of the Chinese authorities in four areas related to the core values of the Olympics: persecution of human rights activists, detention without trial, censorship and the death penalty. They all related to the 'core values' of 'human dignity' and 'respect for universal fundamental ethical principles' in the Olympic Charter. The new report showed there has been little progress towards fulfilling the Chinese authorities' promise to improve human rights, but rather continued deterioration in key areas.

Working in full damage control with their crisis management team on full alert the IOC released the following statement early Thursday afternoon: “Our position is that the IOC has always encouraged the Beijing 2008 organizers to provide media with the fullest access possible to report on the Olympic Games, including access to the internet.

“In light of internet access problems which were experienced this week by media in the Olympic Games Main Press Centre in Beijing, the IOC – namely Chairman of the Beijing 2008 IOC Coordination Commission Hein Verbruggen and Olympic Games Executive Director Gilbert Felli – held meetings and discussions today with Games organizers (BOCOG) and Chinese authorities.

“The issues were put on the table and the IOC requested that the Olympic Games hosts address them. We understand that BOCOG will give details to the media very soon of how the matter has been addressed. We trust them to keep their promise.
“The IOC would like to stress that no deal with the Chinese authorities to censor the internet has ever in any way been entered into.”

Reactions from most media outlets (notably those based and controlled by China’s communist government have been supportive of China’s censorship measures) have been universal in their complete comdination.

Dennis Wilder, the White House's Asian affairs director, told reporters in Washington he was "disappointed that they clamped down on the Internet" in China.

"There have been questions about the access to the Internet and other issues at the Olympic centers," he said. "We think the Chinese government needs to heed those concerns, that if China is going to demonstrate it is truly moving forward as a modern society, this is part of it."

According to a New York Times report: Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, introduced a resolution on Tuesday urging China to reconsider what he said were its plans to force international hotel chains to track electronic communications by its guests. At a news conference, he introduced redacted documents that he said were provided by the hotels requiring them to install government software to monitor Internet traffic during the Olympics.

Jonathan Watts, president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, told The New York Times Wednesday he was disappointed that Beijing had failed to honor its agreement to temporarily remove the firewall that prevented Chinese citizens from fully using the Internet.

“Obviously if reporters can’t access all the sites they want to see, they can’t do their jobs,” he said. “Unfortunately such restrictions are normal for reporters in China, but the Olympics were supposed to be different.”

Gosper found out about the U-turn from The Australian, the leading daily in the country that hosted the 2000 Sydney Games.

"I don't know who did the deal. I am still finding out," Mr Gosper told the paper.

"I understand it was reached with very senior (IOC and Chinese) officials. Whoever was involved in that shift, that position should have been made known to the international media community. As a conduit to that, I should have been informed too, instead of being isolated and given misinformation for some time.

"It has dented my reputation quite seriously. People take me at my word so I expect the information I am giving to be consistent."

"I am disappointed because I have learned in corporate life that you don't deliver surprises to constituents, and the media is a key constituent at the Olympics.
"People will judge that I have been naive."

Gosper, who is one of the first IOC members to arrive in Beijing, told The Australian he fell for the lie about uncensored internet access announced two years ago because he believed it was in China's interests to have free and open media at the Olympics.

"I believed we would stick to the agreement. That is what we have done at different Games held in all sorts of societies. I thought China would judge it was in their interests. If they shifted, fine, but tell us."

According to The Australian the infamous Great Firewall of China that blocks a multitude of websites, even in the Olympic press centre, was also blocking emails yesterday.

Emails sent from Beijing to Sydney by The Australian's China correspondent, Rowan Callick, which included an article from the Far Eastern Economic Review, failed to arrive.

Other messages sent at the same time to the same people, with the same subject name, were all received immediately.

The website of the well-respected bi-monthly journal, published in Hong Kong and owned by News Corp, as is The Australian, is blocked in China for reasons authorities have never explained.

The writing has long been on the wall when it came to how the Communist Chinese were going to treat the media for many years. If maximizing marketing and sponsorship dollars played a determining factor in the Games being awarded to Beijing, a report released TWO YEARS AGO from “Reporters Without Borders” made it abundantly clear, China politically remained a communist country then, where freedom remains a question mark.

Reporters Without Borders where outraged that, 730 days before the start of the Beijing Games (again two years ago), the Chinese authorities where able to continue a crackdown on the press with virtually nothing being said by the IOC or the national Olympic committees. Nothing seemed capable of eliciting a reaction from the Olympic bodies two years ago, not even restrictions on the foreign press.

"This silence allows the Chinese government to shamelessly continue its massive human rights violations," Reporters Without Borders said in their July 2006 report. "Already marred by corruption, the preparation of the games has been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, which officials say is necessary to make sure they are safe." The press freedom organization also fears that all the surveillance and crowd-control equipment that China has bought from US, Israeli and French companies to ensure security at the games, will afterwards be used for repression.

Freedom of the press, a cornerstone of the American Constitution, won’t get in the way of companies focused on reaching the Chinese market. Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of marketing heavyweight WPP Group PLC, told the Wall Street Journal last year he believed China could be the world's second-largest advertising market. Sir Martin has said it is "difficult to think of any sporting or cultural event in the world that could be bigger."

The 2008 Games represents the largest single influx of journalists into China (more than 20,000 journalists). How the Chinese treat the foreign press will leave a lasting impression on the world.

"In no other major country is there so much control over foreign journalists,” Jonathan Watts of the Foreign Correspondents Club of China offered two years ago. Dozens of foreign journalists - both visitors and those based there - are detained, threatened or attacked each year. "We are unable to give an exact figure at the moment, somewhere between 50 and 100 a year, but the number of journalists prevented from working by force is a problem that should be raised at the highest level," says Watts.

Does that suggest journalists should be concerned about their safety if they’re covering the Beijing Games? Will journalists be permitted to cover the Games and report on what they see as they see fit? In a sad testament to how badly Western based companies want to find their way into the Chinese market, two years ago Google agreed to censor its search services in China in order to gain greater access to China's fast-growing market. (the cornerstone as to how the Chinese are censoring the media on the eve of the Beijing Games)

Google’s position at the time claimed the company wasn’t wasn’t sacrificing its integrity. “While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information... is more inconsistent with our mission,” was in part the Google’s rationale.

There is every likelihood, probability that by the time you’re reading this the Communist Chinese will have eased if not removed all of the media censorship restrictions the Red Menace have put in place. What other choice(s) do Beijing Olympic organizers have. Consider the alternative, a very scary proposition if the restrictions remain in place:

If the restrictions remain in place, blocking of websites and preventing email’s from being freely sent to and from Beijing there is a strong probability many journalists will do whatever they have to do to report on how they are being treated and how they feel about it. It’s not that farfetched working under oppressive conditions, to imagine that reporters doing whatever they have to do report the news, fall into a terrible trap and the unthinkable takes place. Factoring how scary this could become – count on the Chinese changing their position.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Australian, USA Today, The Washington Post and The New York Times

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Countdown to Beijing – Live and on the Internet, encompassing the Globe (Part II)

“If you can’t beat them – you might as well join them” seems to be a mantra the International Olympic Committee appears to be holding onto when it comes to the IOC’s philosophy when it comes to the IOC, new media (the Internet) and mobile rights. Six short years ago the IOC accredited five web based journalists, and all but forbid any live video streaming from the 2002 Salt Lake Games. NBC will stream more than 2,200 hours online and that’s merely the tip of the 2008 IOC internet video streaming. After religiously protecting the Olympics from the Internet, it would appear the IOC now sees the Internet as the eventual savior for the Olympic movement.

"It (digital media) will have a transforming impact on the Olympics at multiple levels," said Shoba Purushothaman, CEO of Web-based video marketing platform The NewsMarket in a Reuters report

"It will change story-telling for the Games by making it more human and personal."

Everything and anything relating to the Beijing Games will be sliced, diced and dissected through the Internet, but the crown jewel, the Games real future will be in delivering the Internet to an audience the Olympic movement desperately seeks – ‘younger demographic groups’ who spend countless hours on the Internet.

"The Olympic Games are not that credible or relevant to most young people in the developed or developing world," Alex Balfour, the head of new media at the London 2012 organizing committee told Reuters.

The average age of viewers for the 2004 Games in Athens was over 40 and shows no signs of falling.

"I will maybe watch highlight shows on TV later in the evening but I can never see myself watching it live," said Richard Cousins, a 19-year-old British student.

Jon Tibbs, whose public relations company has several Olympic clients, said in a Reuters report the "digital marketplace has the potential to re-engage hundreds of millions of people with sport" and, as an added benefit to the Olympic movement, re-energize the interest of consumer companies in sponsoring the Games.

The IOC awarded Chinese online rights to CCTV.com on December 18, 2007. Less than a year before next Friday’s Beijing Olympic ceremonies – the IOC made it clear they believed CCTV could deliver Olympic content to what the biggest market to ever host an Olympic Games.

The IOC selected CCTV.com on its capacity to guarantee full exploitation of the digital broadcast rights over a variety of platforms, by working in close cooperation with its television broadcast team. The IOC was also impressed by CCTV.com’s commitment to promoting the Olympic Games and the values of the Olympic Movement in China.

Over-the-air TV rights for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 were acquired by CCTV, as a member of the Asian Broadcasting Union in 1998. The IOC considered interest from several companies for the internet and mobile platform broadcast rights in the Chinese mainland, having launched a tender in March 2007.

Jacques Rogge, IOC President, said: “The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games will be a landmark moment in Olympic history, and is obviously an event of huge national interest in China. When this is coupled with China's digital media potential, it means our agreement with CCTV.com represents a very exciting partnership for the Olympic Movement. We look forward to working with our broadcast partner CCTV and its digital arm, CCTV.com, to bring the excitement of the Olympic Games to a new generation of fans in China.”

IOC Executive Board member and member of the IOC’s TV Rights and New Media Commission Richard Carrión said: “The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games will break new boundaries in terms of digital Olympic broadcast. It was important for the IOC to make sure that all potential partners understood the value of the rights and demonstrated that they would fully exploit these rights in mainland China, whilst also providing satisfactory guarantees of anti-piracy and security measures. By granting digital rights to CCTV.com, the IOC believes CCTV.com’s digital team will work closely with the broadcast team at CCTV to develop joint executions across media platforms. This will ensure Chinese Olympic fans have access to the best possible Olympic coverage in 2008.”

CCTV.com’s General Manager, Mr. Wang Wenbin, said: “The 2008 Olympic Games is both a milestone for new media broadcast in China, and also a milestone for the new media broadcast of the Olympic Games.”

According to TVover.net: More than 75% of China's Internet users get their video entertainment, watching TV and movies on the Internet. According to China Internet Network Information Center, the administrative agency responsible for Internet affairs under the Ministry of Information Industry of the People's Republic of China, there are more than 200 million Internet users and more than 500 million mobile users in China. This represents the largest online and mobile population in the world. And CCTV has what the IOC wanted when they awarded the Chinese broadcaster over-the-air, new media and mobile rights – the audience.

CCTV is China's only main national television broadcast network with over 500 million viewers on their traditional broadcast channels. Over Internet and mobile phone platforms, CCTV.com's live streaming of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Mainland China and Macao SAR, will represent a milestone in the history of the Olympic Games broadcast in the new digital media age.

CCTV will partner with UUSee UUSee will broadcast live the opening ceremony, closing ceremony and all the important sporting action of the 2008 Olympic Games via the Internet in China.
The IOC’s new media and mobile plans for Beijing Games follow the philosophy set with NBC in the United States and CCTV in China. Over-the-air broadcast rights holders where awarded the right to stream live (and taped) events on the Internet.

In Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will offer more than 1,500 hours of video content on the CBC’s website.

As has been the case since the 1960 Rome Games, the European Broadcasting Union (a conglomerate of more than 50 national broadcasters) holds the European over-the-air, online and mobile rights. The EBU will contribute $443 million to the Beijing Games. Like NBC and Canada’s CBC, the EBU are longtime IOC broadcast partners, fulfilling the IOC’s belief that ‘those who they brought to the dance’ will enjoy new media and mobile rights in Beijing.

In November the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced an agreement with Television New Zealand (TVNZ) for the internet and mobile platform exhibition rights within New Zealand for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. The IOC’s over-the-air broadcast partner through to Beijing 2008 is also TVNZ.

Commenting on the agreement, Timo Lumme, Managing Director of IOC Television and Marketing Services, said: “Digital media represents an increasingly important means for communicating the Olympic Games and the Olympic values to the broadest possible audience and we look forward to working with TVNZ to make the Beijing 2008 footage available over the internet and mobile phones in New Zealand.”

TVNZ’s Chief Executive, Rick Ellis, said: “TVNZ’s successful bid for internet and mobile rights will open up a whole new world for New Zealand viewers, allowing them to follow the Beijing Olympics more closely and in more depth than ever before.”

On July 3 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced an agreement with Terra for the internet and mobile platform exhibition rights within Latin America for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Commenting on the agreement, IOC Executive Board member Richard Carrión said: “Terra are a leader in their market, and we look forward to working with them to provide sports fans with unprecedented access to Olympic Games coverage over the internet and mobile phones in Latin America. Digital media coverage of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games around the world is set to eclipse all previous editions of the Games, and these platforms represent an increasingly important means for communicating the Olympic Games and the Olympic values to the broadest possible audience, including to younger generations of Olympic fans.”

The CEO of Terra Latin America, Fernando Madeira, said: “Terra’s internet platform is able to deliver full Olympic Games content via different channels at the same time, live and on demand. The agreement with the International Olympic Committee represents a great opportunity to enhance the content for Terra TV and mobile, as well as showing our innovative capabilities in offering exclusive premium content to Terra’s users”.

A few days after the IOC awarded the new media and mobile rights for the 2008 Beijing Games, the IOC reached an agreement with the African Union of Broadcasting (AUB) and the South African Broadcasting Corporation Limited (SABC) for the acquisition of the broadcast rights within 37 territories in sub- Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

The agreement includes exclusive over-the-air television and radio broadcast rights and non-exclusive satellite, mobile and internet rights. It covers English, French and Portuguese languages, with a minimum commitment of six hours per day on over-the-air television, with two highlights packages per day, and four hours per day on radio.

The IOC selected the AUB / SABC partnership on its capacity to reach the largest possible audience, as well as its commitment to broadcasting tailored programming of the Olympic Games in sub-Saharan Africa and promoting the values of the Olympic Movement in the region.

Commenting on the agreement, IOC Executive Board member Richard Carrión said: “We are delighted to have reached this agreement as it is extremely important that Olympic fans across sub-Saharan Africa have the opportunity to watch the Olympic Games via the best possible broadcast coverage. The members of the AUB are well placed to provide a first-class service.”

Mr Mvuzo Mbebe, Group Executive, SABC Content Enterprises, commented: "SABC has assisted both financially in the acquisition of the rights and in leveraging its particular expertise in the technical aspects of production, whereas the AUB brings to the fore its considerable strengths in uniting the majority of broadcasters representing 37 territories within Africa under one cohesive umbrella body."

Speaking about the agreement, Larry Atiase, CEO of the AUB said: “Our feed will reach an estimated audience of 129 million people and we will broadcast 126 hours over the course of the Olympic Games.”

Broadcasting revenues (remember new media and mobile rights are melded together with the rights fees paid by over-the-air broadcasters) are staggering:

Olympic Games Broadcast Revenue
1960 Rome US$1.2 million
1964 Tokyo US$1.6 million
1968 Mexico City US$9.8 million
1972 Munich US$17.8 million
1976 Montreal US$34.9 million
1980 Moscow US$88 million
1984 Los Angeles US$286.9 million
1988 Seoul US$402.6 million
1992 Barcelona US$636.1 million
1996 Atlanta US$898.3 million
2000 Sydney US$1,331.6 million
2004 Athens US$1,494 million
2008 Beijing US$1,737 million (estimate to date)

The IOC has awarded (sold) broadcast rights through the 2012 London Games. Expect the Internet to play a key role in how the IOC delivers both the 2010 Vancouver Games and the next summer Games in London. But with hundreds of millions of dollars already committed to delivering the Games, the IOC hasn’t attempted to generate significant revenues from new media and mobile rights. When the IOC sits down with their broadcast partners to sell the 2014 Winter Games in Sofia, Russia and the yet to be awarded 2016 Summer Games expect digital rights to play a key role in the dollars the IOC will generate with the foundation that will be established when the Beijing Games begin in eight days.

"People taking photos and video with their cell phones will change the way we watch the Games," says The NewsMarket's Purushothaman.

"For the first time, digital technology will liberate how we all, sitting outside, see the Games." But the IOC will not allow spectators to publish on the internet photos and video taken inside Olympic venues.

"As the iPhone capabilities are growing by the day I can probably see myself using my iPhone to view Olympic clips on the go, maybe on my way to work or when out with my friends," said Richard Woods, 20, a public relations executive.

"Technology is the key enabler for the Olympic Games," said Alexander Vronski, technology vice president for the Sochi Winter Games of 2014. "New media can engage nations."

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Reuters and the International Olympic Committee

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Countdown to Beijing – Live and on the Internet (Part I)

What started as a trickle at the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, nearly imploded at the 2000 Sydney Games, was all but stopped dead in its tracks at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, was begrudgingly embraced at the 2004 Athens Games and 2006 Torino Games will be lovingly embraced by the International Olympic Committee when the 2008 Beijing Games begin in just 10 days on August 8, 2008. The Beijing Games will be the first Olympic Games accepted by the IOC.

Today’s Insider will look at the brief history of the Olympics and Internet streaming of events, while a follow-up report will look at how the host Chinese and the other countries are embracing the Beijing Games and the Internet.

The Beijing Games will be streamed live and available on almost all of those who have access to computers throughout the world. Technology will limit computer users to access to whatever country they happen to be in during the Beijing Games, but most if not all of the Games will be offered on the Internet, a striking difference from eight short years ago when the IOC set believed the Internet was the devil. The IOC rightfully protected anyone who wanted to stream events from the Sydney Games. The IOC believed that the Internet pirates might offer illegal streaming of the Olympic Games during the Sydney Games.

In an interview with James Hattori of CNN done just prior to the Sydney Games, Jonathan Weber, then editor in chief of the Industry Standard, said that in an effort to protect the rights of TV broadcasters, the International Olympic Committee had banned Internet journalism organizations from covering the Olympics in Sydney.

The IOC believed at the time that TV broadcasters had to pay fees for exclusive rights to broadcast the games in their country. In the US the NBC alone had paid $705 million, Hattori reported.

The Associated Press reported in early March 2001 (six months after the Sydney Games) that Olympic officials hadn't wanted to jeopardize their income from TV rights, which accounted for 51 percent of all revenues from the Sydney Games, $1.33 billion of the overall $2.6 billion.

They were widely criticized for their harsh policy and the issue was discussed at a media conference held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in December 2000. Associated Press reported a few months after the conference that Olympic officials decided to give accreditation to a few online news media sites to cover the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

At the Sydney Summer Games the only Internet company that got official access to the athletes and events was Quokka Sports, through a deal with NBC. Quokka provided official NBC Olympic coverage on the Internet from their site nbcolympics.com. Its well worth noting eight years ago most computers that offered Internet access featured dial-up modems and Internet bandwith speeds at 28.8.

15 months after what was regarded as a ground breaking opportunity at the time (securing 20 minutes a day of internet steaming for the Sydney Games) Quokka Sports a San Francisco based company declared bankruptcy.

Wireless, highspeed and broadband weren’t a part of the Internet when the 2002 Salt Lake City Games took place. NBC tried an interesting concept when the 2004 Athens Games rolled around – they offered Internet coverage of events to those within the United States but collected credit card information from users. Fees weren’t charged back to the credit cards, but the fear consumers had when it came to providing their credit card information over the Internet drove potential viewers away.

Not a great deal changed two years later at the 2006 Torino Games. NBC did offer Olympic highlights on their Olympic site http://www.nbcolympics.com/ but their live event coverage was limited to the Gold medal hockey game.

Monday NBC announced what can only be described as one of the most ambitious plans to stream a sports event on the Internet – ever. According to an NBC release: NBC Universal will offer the single most ambitious digital event coverage ever including 2,200 hours of live competition encompassing 25 sports on NBCOlympics.com, with thousands more available on demand. NBCOlympics.com will serve as the Olympic fan's hub for every aspect of the 2008 Beijing Games experience.

NBC Olympics Mobile will present the most comprehensive sporting event coverage ever delivered on mobile, providing Olympic fans with the best in news and video coverage. From live mobile TV broadcasts to breaking news to text and video alerts, NBC Olympics Mobile will be the "on-the-go" destination for Olympic fans. The full digital plan for the Beijing Olympics, August 8-24 was announced today by Gary Zenkel, President, NBC Olympics.

"Over the past 20 years, we have continually expanded our coverage of the Olympics to new platforms as they have become available, and the Beijing Games will mark another milestone," said Zenkel. "With the Beijing Games, the Olympic viewer will be able to define his or her own Olympic experience like never before, watching every sport throughout the Games be it at home on TV, in the office on their computer or on the go on their mobile phones."

Not only are NBC’s plans ambitious – but they’re comprehensive, offering complete Olympic Games coverage online.

NBCOLYMPICS.COM on MSN:
Merging news, results and schedules with extensive video coverage highlighted by 2,200 hours of live streaming broadband coverage and an unmatched depth of unique storytelling content, NBCOlympics.com on MSN will be the Olympic fan's hub for every aspect of the 2008 Beijing Games experience-from the most comprehensive TV schedules to learning how to connect to mobile, gaming, VOD and other digital destinations.

EXCLUSIVE PARTNERSHIP WITH MICROSOFT: NBC Universal's exclusive partnership with Microsoft unites NBC's Olympic coverage expertise, MSN's large audience reach and Microsoft's innovative Silverlight 2 technology to deliver NBCOlympics.com video while putting users in control of how they want to experience the Games – online and on demand. Starting August 6, fans logging on to the MSN homepage (http://www.msn.com) will have exclusive access to NBCOlympics.com's comprehensive coverage of the Beijing Games.

Many of the NBCOlympics.com features are detailed below:

VIDEO: NBCOlympics.com will provide approximately 2,200 hours of live streaming broadband coverage of Olympic competition where users can choose from up to 20 concurrent streams encompassing 25 Olympic sports. In addition, the site will offer more than 3,000 hours of on-demand access to full-event replays and extensive highlights, including daily recaps of key events, best-of montages, commentator analysis and athlete-specific clips. (By comparison, at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, NBC streamed two hours of live footage).

The video player's enhanced mode, powered by Microsoft's Silverlight technology, will offer picture-in-picture, quad-screen functionality, a larger viewing area and an improved user experience.

REAL-TIME RESULTS: For all Olympic sports, NBCOlympics.com will present the most comprehensive results anywhere online, provide LIVE results as events are happening and offer statistical summaries, tournament draws and group standings.

PERSONALIZED TELEVISION AND ONLINE VIEWER'S GUIDE: This section, traditionally one of the most trafficked portions of the site during the Games, will be even more important to help navigate the expanded Olympic coverage across all the NBC Universal broadcast and digital platforms. NBCOlympics.com's complete schedule for the NBCU broadcast and online coverage reflects the most up-to-date programming information as the television and online schedules are modified throughout the Games. Additionally, site visitors who enter their zip code will receive localized listings that reflect the exact programming available from their local NBC affiliate, including live streaming listings and digital affiliate channel locations for high-definition viewing on NBC Universal cable stations. Viewers will be able to sort the listings by sport, network, day and time, as well as search by keywords such as athlete, team or country.

EXPERTISE AND ANALYSIS: NBC's Olympic commentators will provide video reviews and previews of competition, as well as insight into specific events, rules and athletes competing in the Games. In addition, NBCOlympics.com producers and writers, including Alan Abrahamson, widely considered the foremost Olympic writer, will be breaking news as well as writing columns, features and analysis. The Associated Press will serve as the primary source for recaps and previews of all the Olympic competition.

MEDAL TRACKER: An in-depth page presenting real-time medal standings, plus related content such as medal ceremonies, past medal standings searchable by country and sport, as well as links from the medal tracker to recaps and highlights of competition.

TEAM USA: Thorough coverage of the American athletes throughout the Beijing Games. Content includes results and medals, video introductions and daily events to watch.

ATHLETE PROFILES: NBCOlympics.com will present bios for all 10,500 athletes competing in Beijing, with unmatched depth of information and content around the American competitors, including Q&As, photo galleries, video clips, results and more.

COUNTRY PROFILES: Snapshots of all 205 participating nations include general data (e.g. population, location), plus Olympic histories and 2008 Olympic outlooks.

PHOTOS: NBCOlympics.com will use screen grabs from NBC Sports broadcasts as well as a full library of Getty and Associated Press images to offer multiple galleries and narrative slideshows across all Olympic sports.

DESTINATION BEIJING: A section dedicated to the host city and nation, featuring video features, photo galleries, written features, blogs and more, for users who want to learn more about the culture of China and the Olympic host city, Beijing.

INSIDE THIS SPORT: This is a feature that will give users everything they need to know about a specific sport including competition formats, scoring systems, rules, glossaries, historic timelines and venues.

BLOGS: More than a dozen Olympians are contributing personally shot, home-video style content to NBCOlympics.com as part of an "Olympic Insider" feature that offers insight into the athletes' personalities and the sports they play. Installments include tours of residences, behind-the-scenes at training sessions, out-of-competition team outings and more. The "Olympic Insider" can be explored at www.nbcolympics.com/olympicinsider/index.html.

WIDGETS: NBCOlympics.com widgets allow users to stay up to date on the Beijing Olympics without leaving their personal homepages. Widgets include: top news, video & photos, athletes to watch, TV and online listings, medal trackers, results, schedules and local coverage.

TELEMUNDO: Telemundo.NBCOlympics.com offers Spanish-speaking viewers a destination for all things Olympics. The largest Spanish offering to date for NBC Olympics, the Telemundo section is a near clone of the English-language site featuring comprehensive coverage (news, video, photos) on key sports including medals, results, athletes and countries.

GAMES:
PRIMETIME COMPANION: A special application to enhance the primetime broadcast, offering video features, text and photos on competition airing in primetime highlighted by polling, chatting, trivia and more. This application will also offer the "Primetime Challenge," a two-screen gaming application in which Olympic fans can play along as they watch NBC's primetime broadcast. Users can compete for points in real-time, while playing against their friends and other fans, by predicting the outcome of live events, answering Olympic trivia and polls, playing Olympic-themed mini-games, and chatting with their friends about that night's competition. The "Primetime Challenge" will be available for all 17 nights of NBC's primetime coverage.

OLYMPIC QUICK PICK FANTASY GAME: The Olympic Quick Pick fantasy game will allow fantasy players and Olympic enthusiasts the opportunity to win prizes for participating while cheering on Olympic athletes. Visitors of NBCOlympics.com will be assigned five random athletes competing for a medal each day. Based on how those athletes finish in their medal events, users will earn fantasy points. Those that accumulate the most fantasy points both daily and over the course of the entire Olympics will win prizes.

OLYMPIC FLASH GAMES: Fans of diving, weightlifting, and archery can compete online in games designed to mimic Olympic competition.

OLYMPIC TRIVIA GAMES: Olympic fans will also be able to test their knowledge with NBCOlympics.com trivia games. Players will be able to compete against other Olympics fans, as well as challenge friends to beat their scores.

OLYMPIC ZONE:
A total of 227 of the 232 (97%) NBC affiliated websites (including all top 100 markets) are participating in the 2008 Olympic Zone offering. Olympic Zone presents localized coverage of the Beijing Olympics directly from a user's hometown NBC station. Track local athletes, watch video, slideshows and read blogs. Expanded features in 2008 include:
· Localized national video available via Olympic Zone Advanced Olympic Zone integration into NBCOlympics.com (more modules, contextual items such as local athlete tracker)
· Expanded localized content including national video fed into Olympic Zone
· Improved local athlete trackers with featured local athletes on the national site
· Widgets for placement on station and partner websites
· Local email alerts

NBC OLYMPICS MOBILE:
NBC Olympics Mobile presents the most ambitious major sporting event coverage ever delivered on mobile, providing Olympic fans with the best in news and video coverage – how they want it, wherever they want it. From breaking news to text and video alerts to live mobile TV broadcasts, NBC Olympics Mobile will be the mobile destination for Olympic fans.

MOBILE WEB: The NBC Olympics Mobile Web site will deliver the most comprehensive coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games available for mobile users. The NBC Olympics Mobile Web site currently includes live news, highlights and feature video, Team USA profiles, slideshow galleries, voting polls, alerts sign-up, and much more. And starting August 8, mobile users will be able to view live medal counts, detailed results & schedules, customizable TV & online listings, and all the top news and video from Beijing.

Users can access the NBC Olympics Mobile web site by going to http://mobile.nbcolympics.com on their mobile device's Internet browser or by texting "OLYMPICS" to 51515.

ALERTS: NBC Olympics Mobile also provides alerts for every Olympic fan. Text and e-mail alerts are available for breaking news, top headlines for all Olympic sports, medal results, event previews, athlete alerts, and TV/live streaming schedule reminders. NBC Olympics Mobile will also provide free photo & video highlight alerts for top Olympic sports.

MOBILE VIDEO: NBC Olympics Mobile Video will provide highlights, daily news, and exclusive feature videos on-demand to mobile video users. Mobile video is available on the NBC Olympics Mobile Web site and on-deck with select mobile providers.

MOBILE TV: NBC Olympics Mobile will launch NBC Olympics 2Go, an all-new 24/7 mobile TV channel featuring the best of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. NBC Olympics 2Go will include complete event coverage from NBC, USA, MSNBC, and CNBC programming. With NBC Olympics 2Go, users will be able to featured and live event coverage while they are on-the-go!

Perkins Miller, SVP Digital Media, NBC Sports and Olympics offered this perspective on the eve of what is being billed as the digital Games in a CNN report, “The significant change is the amount of video you are able to put online. YouTube is now sort of the lingua franca of what's happening (on the Internet), and that's really expanded in the past two years. The driving force is about entertaining the viewer, and ... viewer appetites and points of contact have changed. That's not just putting it online, but (viewer on demand) transmission, moving content onto mobile phones. The ambition is to reach as many viewers as possible.”

Eight short years ago most computer users still used a dial up connection – often at 28.8 speed. In the last two years as Miller pointed out, the leaps and gains in technology are allowing NBC to steam the Beijing Games.

“Video player technology is much better today, processor connections and network connection feed is much better. They are all linked, but the real driver is consumers have been exposed to online video, and expect it.”

One concern Miller and NBC officials don’t have – the cannibalization of NBC's broadcast viewers and advertising revenue?

“We find that online coverage for all our sports properties -- whether its horse racing, Notre Dame football games or whatever -- the more we do online, the more our viewers are engaged in the sports franchise. This drives overall greater (viewership). It's complementary ... if the viewer is not at their television to see a routine, you can see it online. If you are a huge fan of (U.S. gymnast) Shawn Johnson, and want to see a routine again and again, you can get even more Shawn Johnson online.” Miller told CNN.

Miller knows http://www.nbcolympics.com/ are facing a daunting task in producing close to 3,000 hours of online coverage from the Beijing Games.

“There's a huge amount of coordination with more than 17 different technology partners in a wide variety of places -- Beijing, Redmond (Washington state), New York, Italy, Florida. These are the vendors who are developing the software, platforms and hardware to make it all happen.

“Also, we don't get to correct the final fingertip connection -- how do we ensure in a very short period of time that we get the best quality (of streaming video) for those last centimeters of connection?

Television is pretty standardized, but computers are still the frontier, they are different from computer to computer, they have software that may or may not be able to talk to each other. This is still a very new enterprise, not tried and tested and proved over decades of use (such as broadcast television).”

It all begins in nine days – the Beijing Games, likely the most important live Internet streamed event – ever.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this insider report: CNN and Wired News

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Monday, July 28, 2008

The National Football League does an Internet about face

Monday the National Football League took what can be only regarded as a gigantic leap into the future, or at least when it comes to NFL and the Internet. The NFL and NBC announced an innovative plan to stream the leagues Sunday night football package on NBC live on the Internet. The announcement marks the first major move towards live Internet streaming from a sports league that had previously shunned the Internet. The NFL’s Internet steaming history was in start contrast to how its rivals viewed the Internet.

The NFL’s decision to steam NBC games (nationally televised games) includes a revenue sharing component. The NFL sees NBC’s 17 game schedule as a ‘test’. The league and this likely has Fox and CBS upset (who own regional NFL rights) have no plan to offer any of Fox’s, CBS’s or ESPN’s Monday Night Football games online.

On the eve of the 2006 season the National Football League distributed a media release announcing that for the first time ever – the NFL would offer streaming video of their 2006 schedule, but not where you’d expect, everywhere except North America. The NFL’s first major foray into the world of live streaming video of their games on the Internet (a partnership with Yahoo), is limited to Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and Africa. With one notable exception, the same philosophy remained in place throughout the 2007 season as well.

On the eve of the 2007 season the NFL decided that those who purchased the DirecTV league package for $269 could pay an additional $99 and purchase what was billed as a “SuperFan package” Those who purchased the SuperFan package where had access to all of the leagues games on their computers through a special access code.

Head back in a time machine to the even of the 2006 season offers an interesting historical perspective on where the NFL was before Monday’s announcement. The 2006 agreement marked the first time the NFL made a full season of games available to fans via the Web. There was a limited NFL online trial in 1999, where 1 game per week was offered in Amsterdam and Singapore.

NFL spokesman Dan Masonson made it clear to SBN on the eve of the 2006 season the league has no plans at that time to offer video streaming of their games in North America. The NFL’s new TV rights agreements (2006 was the year of the six-year contracts, worth$3.7 billion annually); did not include any of the rights holders having the right to stream any games on the Internet. Those rights were retained by the National Football League.

According to Masonson, “We (the National Football League) are not going to jeopardize anything our network partners do...as well as DirecTV which offers the exclusive Sunday Ticket package in North America.”

What made the NFL’s thought process difficult to understand – Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, the PGA and the NCAA as far back as 2000 did, or were in the planning stages of, offering video streaming of their games on the Internet two years ago.

What made it even more interesting, the NFL’s network partners (Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN) offered most of their network programming on the Internet as they are planning to do when the networks launch their fall programming in September.

Clearly the sports industry continues to embrace live video streaming of events on the Internet, and the NFL seemingly was steadfast in their resolve to not even consider live video streaming of their games in North America. Was the NFL making a mistake, before Monday’s announcement?

Major League Baseball is the industry leaders when it comes to streaming their games on the Internet. 2006 is the fifth consecutive season MLB have offered live video streaming of their games at MLB.com, a program that began with the 2002 season. Arguably, MLB.com’s biggest success to date was the streaming of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in March.

At least for Major League Baseball, MLB.com has evolved from an interesting concept, to a loss leader, to a profitable venture. A Wall Street Journal report in March 2006 on the dollars and cents of the MLB.com said about 15% of the site's total revenue of $195 million last year came from managing Web sites and other partnerships like the one with CBS. An additional $68 million came from subscriptions to watch live video content on MLB.com, including the 2,400 baseball games it streamed in the 2005 season. The rest of its revenue comes from ticket sales and advertising. How good has MLB interactive become at what they do, good enough that they’ve been able to market their services to other sports leagues, properties and events.

Under the leadership of Bob Bowman, MLB’s interactive division has already signed up 25 clients, including CBS, Major League Soccer and the World Championship Sports Network. Entertainers Jimmy Buffett and LL Cool J, too, have hired MLB.com to promote albums and concerts by streaming video of interviews and live performances.

"They are one of the few operating in this space," says Larry Kramer, president of digital media for CBS. "And the important thing was they were in the off-season, so we knew they could also dedicate the time."

It’s easy to understand why Major League Baseball works as well as it does on the Internet. Teams play 162 games; displaced fans want to be able to follow their team on a nightly basis, irregardless of where they are.

"I really needed some way to see Yankees games," says Robert Auld, a transportation analyst with Henry Schein Inc., a New York medical-supply distributor. "I'm on the road a lot and I take my laptop with me just about everywhere I go. And with a hectic schedule, I figured my best option was subscribing to baseball's video service."

Which of course makes the NFL’s position regarding streaming video to the North American market that much more questionable. Following the rationale of Mr. Schein the Yankees fan, how is the NFL serving its traveling fans? If you’re a big fan of the Miami Dolphins, you’re away on a business trip (in Oklahoma City) and the local Fox and CBS affiliates have no interest in televising the Dolphins game that week against the Buffalo Bills, just how will that Dolphins fan see their team play?

The NBA launched NBA LEAGUE PASS Broadband, on January 23, 2006. The NBA offered an innovative plan, leveraging NBA LEAGUE PASS, the league's regular season digital cable and satellite television package. The NBA offered the broadband package as an added value component to their full season subscribers. The league launched NBA LEAGUE PASS Broadband which coincides with the start of the NBA LEAGUE PASS Half-Season package, offering the product for $109 for the remainder of the regular season.

"Working hand-in-hand with our NBA LEAGUE PASS cable and satellite providers, NBA LEAGUE PASS Broadband is another great way for subscribers to experience the excitement of live NBA games throughout the season," said Gregg Winik, Executive Vice President, NBA Entertainment. "As an added value, the new service is the perfect complement to any NBA LEAGUE PASS subscription and no longer requires subscribers to be at their television set to access their NBA LEAGUE PASS service."

The NBA regards the streaming video as an opportunity to leverage their ‘season ticket’ package. If the NFL used the NBA’s rationale, the NFL would package their DirecTV and internet video streaming as an opportunity to create growth. The NFL regards Internet streaming as a treat to their media partners, not as an opportunity to grow those partnerships.

As unimaginable as it may seem, professional sports version of The Little Sisters of the Poor, the National Hockey League were ‘looking’ at Internet streaming possibilities for the 2006-07 season.

"It's an opportunity we're looking at seriously,” Doug Perlman, the league's senior vice-president of television and media ventures, told The Globe and Mail’s William Houston.

Perlman understands before the NHL moves forward with any plan to video stream their games on the Internet, the NHL will have to reach an agreement with national and regional television rights holders as well as the distributors of the NHL Centre Ice pay-per-view package.

"You have to be mindful and respectful of our relationship with our partners," he said in The Globe and Mail report, "But against that backdrop, we're looking at how we can provide a streaming product that makes sense."

Internet video streaming still in its infancy requires the user to have broadband Internet.

According to a Globe and Mail report: in the United States, 69 per cent of households are on-line, with 60 per cent of those using a broadband (high-speed) service, which is required for live video streaming.

In Canada, 64 per cent of households have Internet access, with 80.6 per cent of those using high-speed, according to Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission figures.

The PGA leaped into offering broadband video streaming during the 2006 PGA Championship. PGA.com buoyed by an agreement with TNT aired exclusive, live coverage of the 2006 PGA Championship online recorded record traffic on its site. .

The “Tiger Effect” helped the PGA blow the roof off their website two years ago, according to a report in Mediaweek. PGA.com recorded an 18 percent increase in total page views during the four days of tournament coverage over the previous year, 49.7 million vs. 42.2 million, and set a single-day record of 16.2 million page views, the second day of the live Internet telecast of the competition. The tournament coverage also brought in 2 million unique viewers to the site.

PGA.com, using "Pipeline" technology originally developed for Turner's CNN in its airing of the TNT coverage, also registered nearly one million video streams.

TNT also earned an increase for its broadcast coverage of the golf tournament, producing a 1.5 household rating for its 18 hours of TV coverage, up from a 1.4 last year. The cable network also showed increases among men 25-54, up 8 percent, and among persons 25-54, up six percent.

"PGA.com Pipeline's success, both from a traffic and performance standpoint, coupled with our strong television ratings, indicates that our online product not only didn't erode our television audience at all, but actually complemented it," said David Levy, Turner Sports president in the Mediaweek report.

The NFL has had the technology, and understands video streaming can generate revenue for some time, but not to their biggest audience – American football fans. The NFL’s online subscription service charged European and Asian fans a fee of $24.99 per week or $249.99 for the entire 17-week NFL regular season, and each game was also archived up to 24 hours after its conclusion.

"We are pleased to offer NFL fans around the world an innovative way to watch NFL games. The NFL is committed to taking advantage of new technologies to bring more value to our fans everywhere and Yahoo!'s proven leadership in technology makes them an ideal partner for a product like 'Game Pass'," Brian Rolapp, the NFL's vice president of media strategy told SBN two years ago.

"We are proud to help the NFL deliver the world's most exciting sport to the millions of football fans outside the U.S.," said David Katz, head of sports and studios for Yahoo! "The global reach and promotional strength of the Yahoo! network enables us to deliver this first-of-its-kind product to NFL fans around the world."

ESPN who are paying a king’s ransom to televise Monday Night Football ($1.1 billion a year) have streamed live video for select college football games for several seasons. ESPN has for a number of years melded together their college football coverage both online and through their national cable network.

"The addition of live college games to our content represents a key milestone in the way we’re using innovative technology to serve sports fans," said Manish Jha, senior vice president and general manager, Mobile ESPN. "Recognizing our fans aren't always in front of a TV or computer, we feel there is no better time to offer longer-form mobile video with a sport as popular as college football."

Officials at Fox, CBS and ESPN were tightlipped Monday when the NFL and NBC made their online announcement, in start contrast from NBC and the NFL. NBC pays the NFL $600 million annually for the right to their 17 game package, less than ESPN’s $1.1 billion for Monday Night Football, Fox’s $712 million for NFC games, DirecTV’s $700 million NFL out of market package and CBS’ $622 million AFC package.

"This is an exciting step forward for us as we offer our fans a new way to consume NFL games," said STEVE BORNSTEIN, NFL Executive Vice President of Media. "We are combining NBC's outstanding Sunday Night Football telecast with extras that will enhance the fan enjoyment of the game."

"In the first two seasons of 'NBC Sunday Night Football,' we created a new destination to reach viewers and changed traditional primetime football viewing habits," said DICK EBERSOL, Chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. "Now, together with the NFL, we are adding the live streaming element where users can interact with the broadcast to enhance their experience."

The Wall Street Journal who first reported the NFL’s decision to work with NBC spoke with other NBC officials.

"I think the consumer of media is more and more interested in a greater sense of control over their media experience," said Gary Zenkel, NBC Sports' executive vice president of strategic partnerships. "Whether that translates to sports viewing or not, no one knows. But this is certainly an opportunity to experiment."

According to the Wall Street Journal report: the NFL approached NBC in recent months to hammer out a deal to stream its games, in part, it says, because NBC's nationwide broadcasts, which averaged 15.9 million viewers last season, make for a clean test of whether online availability will boost or shrink viewership.
"Does it cannibalize, or is it incremental?" Brian Rolapp, the NFL's senior vice president of media strategy and digital media told The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Rolapp wants to know: "Does it make sense to use it to go out and build new products and new businesses?"

Only time will tell but Monday was a step forward for the NFL when it came to sports biggest media player and the Internet.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Wall Street Journal

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