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article imageInternet and Tech Changing Olympics: NBC Cries Over Web Leaks, China Fakes Fireworks

By Susan Duclos     Aug 11, 2008 in Technology
New technology and the Internet mean new challenges, and this year's Olympic Games are are perfect example of how times are a changin'; NBC is now having trouble keeping exclusive video off the Internet and the Chinese are outright faking it.
The Internet has led to today's instant culture, where on-demand content is aways available. So when NBC decided to make American TV viewers wait 12 hours to watch the Opening Ceremonies of the games, the backlash was inevitable and people flocked to websites to watch other coverage live.
As expected, NBC (who paid $894 million for the broadcast rights to the Games) panicked over losing their audience to the Internet and started sending frenzied requests to other sites to have content pulled. Their attempts to do so were described as "frantic requests to Web sites, asking them to take down the illicit clips and restrict authorized video to host countries." While they did this, Internet users taking advantage of technological advances proceeded to play the "whack-a-mole" game with NBC to get their news and footage about the Olympics when they wanted it, and not when NBC wanted to broadcast it 12 hours later.
As The Ledger reports:
As dancers and acrobats whisked across the National Stadium in Beijing, anonymous users uploaded more than 100 video clips of the ceremony to YouTube, but the site, owned by Google, swiftly removed as many as it could. Similarly, some live video streams on Justin.tv, a popular source for international video, were also removed. According to International Olympic Committee guidelines, the television networks with the local rights to the Games are the only legal sources of video in each country.
But the media companies were almost always a step behind users who have a seemingly unlimited number of Web sites, especially when bloggers were sharing links to new sources. In Rhode Island, Aida Neary and a colleague huddled at her desk to watch a Brazilian television channel’s live coverage.
The quality wasn't as good as it NBC's, but in this day and age, people are able to stay one step ahead of the network.
Lorie Johnson, an information technology worker in Little Rock, Arkansas, watched the torch lighting from her desk at work instead of waiting on NBC's coverage. Johnson then sent out an email asking: "In the age of Internet (almost) anywhere, why be tied to a TV?". She continued by saying television networks “no longer have the same viewer monopoly they had 30 years ago [and] why don’t they see that?”
Faked Olympic Footage?
In addition to NBC's problems of losing its audience to the Web, technology has created another scenario that viewers may find surprising: Faked footage.
The Telegraph reports that 29 footprints in the opening ceremony fireworks display were digitally created. The Telegraph say some of those "footprints" were done using "computer graphics, meticulously created over a period of months and inserted into the coverage electronically at exactly the right moment."
They maintain the fireworks were real and YouTube video footage proves that to be the case, but The Telegraph points to a report in a local Chinese newspaper, the Beijing Times, that asserts only the last of the footprint fireworks display was actually captured on film from a camera at the Bird's Nest National Stadium, and the rest was technologically inserted.
According to the head of the visual effects team for the ceremony, Gao Xiaolong, it took almost a year to create the 55-second sequence, making it unnoticeable by creating the hazy effects of smog in Beijing at night and special attention to details such as imitating the shaking effect of being filmed from a helicopter.
He says officials had to resort to digital fireworks because it would have been too difficult to position a helicopter at the right angle to capture the first 28 "footprints" during the fireworks show. So while the event did happen, people watching certain footage on TV would actually have seen some real and some faked fireworks.
As the Telegraph reports:
One advisor to the Beijing Olympic Committee (BOCOG) defended the decision to use make-believe to impress the viewer. "It would have been prohibitive to have tried to film it live," he said. "We could not put the helicopter pilot at risk by making him try to follow the firework route."
A spokeswoman for BOCOG said the final decision had been made by Beijing Olympic Broadcasting, the joint venture between the International Olympic Committee and local organisers that is responsible for providing the main "feeds" of all Olympic events to viewers around the world.
"As far as we are concerned, we let off the fireworks - that's what's important to us," she said.
If the Chinese could seamlessly fake part of the fireworks display, perhaps its not unreasonable to at least ask what else was faked?
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