Olympic panel marketing director holds talks with Prasar Bharati officials

NEW DELHI: Total estimated viewership of 4 billion people. Broadcast revenues of $ 1.4 billion. Over 300 TV companies to cover the event. Almost 4,000 hours of original programming with US broadcasters being the biggest consumers. Dedicated feed for various countries in various languages. Welcome to the world of Games of the XXVIII Olympiad in Athens and International Olympic Committee marketing director Michael Payne.

"I am touring various parts of Asia to meet up with broadcasters and know about their plans of broadcasting the Games. It's very important that we have as wide a coverage of Athens on free to air mode as possible," Payne told select journalists during his stopover in Delhi to have a pow-wow with India's pubcaster Prasar Bharati, which manages DD and All India Radio.

The broadcast rights for the Athens Games, as Payne points out, are expected to generate revenues worth approximately $ 1.4 billion, though some negotiations with organisations like the Asian Broadcasting Union (an apex body of over 50 Asian primarily national/public service broadcasters) are still on.

Pointing out how technology has changed the way Olympics are covered by the media, Payne said that for the Atlanta Games, the US broadcaster NBC, for instance, aired 174 hours of various events over one channel in one language. "But eight years on (in Athens), NBC would be airing almost 1,000 hours of Olympics in two languages, including Spanish," he points out to the growing coverage of the biggest spectacle on earth, adding in future NBC may air all the 4,000 hours.

India is not far behind in this coverage, though, in global terms and compared to some Western countries, the increase in coverage budget and actual airtime devoted would be far less.

"For the first time Doordarshan would have a dedicated feed coming out of Athens, may be focusing on Indian athletes and those games that are of importance to India," Payne said, indicating that a time would come when even DD would have much wider coverage of the Summer Games as the Olympics are known.

Though Payne was not ready to be drawn into the financial details, Prasar Bharati sources indicated that after negotiations with the ABU, DD is likely to get the India telecast rights of the Olympics --- Ten Sports is rumoured to have talked sometime about a telecast deal with DD before the cricket controversy involving Olympics --- for over Rs 200 million. But for the dedicated feed would come at an extra price.

A consumption pattern of the Olympics coverage is also an indication why so much of money is being poured into its coverage, generating so much revenue for the IOC.

According to Payne, who has been with the IOC for almost two decades now, in places like Japan and Australia total time spent on Olympics coverage is very high --- almost 40 hours per person, which translates into roughly 2.5 hour per person per day. In the US, the corresponding figure would be 20-25 hours per person and in African countries it would be on the lower side of five to six hours per person.

"The idea is to have the Games televised into every known country and island possible," Payne said.

What about the consumption pattern in India, considering it is linked to Olympics heroes and medals too? Well, for India, a country which has won very few medals in the Olympics, no statistics are available. "We would have to have some research work done in this regard," he says, pointing out that it would be helpful before the show comes to Beijing.

But the IOC is still not very upbeat about newer technologies like broadband as a delivery mechanism. Pointing out that no separate broadband rights would be sold for the Athens Olympics, Payne explained, "Television is the primary vehicle... everything else has to be built around it. The broadcasters have to come up with a strategy to see how things like (delivery on) broadband and telephony, for example, can be exploited."

The facts too support Payne's contention in this regard. For the last Olympics Games in Sydney, while 18.2 million people watched the opening event on television in Australia, only 200,000 switched on their computers for the event.

Payne concluded that the broadcast rights are given via a fair and competitive tendering process, designed to select the group of broadcasters and media companies that can best serve the ideals and interests of the Olympic Movement, which is always open to offers of expanding the promotion and coverage of the Olympic Games, embracing new technologies, broadening the choice for viewers, and guarantee the widest possible audience for the Olympic Games.

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