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Disaster Averted In Live Transmission Of Opening Ceremony Broadcast


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CBC averts disaster during opening ceremony

WILLIAM HOUSTON

whouston@globeandmail.com

August 9, 2008

The CBC narrowly escaped a technical calamity during its telecast of the Beijing Olympics' opening ceremony on Friday.

Just as the network switched from its preview show to the live telecast of the ceremony, the audio portion of the transmission disappeared.

The problem, which originated with the host broadcast, affected the CBC and about 15 international networks.

"Fortunately, we had our own lines installed," said Trevor Pilling, the CBC's Olympics executive producer. "So we went to our backup lines. Without having those backup lines in place, it could have been a disaster."

Pilling said a formal complaint has been lodged to the venue technical manager.

Scott Moore, the head of CBC Sports, said he received an e-mail message reporting that the Australian rights holder, Channel 7, was without audio for a period.

The CBC's audio problem lasted only a few seconds.

NBC's telecast, which was tape delayed to 7:30 p.m. EDT Friday night, was not affected by the technical problem.

Moore said the international broadcasters will meet Saturday.

The only other technical glitch that affected the CBC was difficulty in communicating with Canadians at the National Stadium's infield. Organizers refused to give CBC access to the athletes.

As an alternative, the network used a cellphone system linking co-hosts Peter Mansbridge and Ron MacLean to the athletes. It was largely ineffective, although a clear interview with flag-bearer Adam van Koeverden was achieved.

Grading opener

Nancy Wilson of CBC Newsworld called it stunning. Her colleague Heather Hiscox described it as "jaw-dropping."

Yes, the opening ceremony was a visual spectacle, particularly if you were watching it in high-definition television. And it was massive, with a participation involving thousands.

But it was also curiously rigid and unmoving.

Though technically amazing and impeccably executed, the historical theme was devoid of any significant amount of passion or charm.

It probably would have been impossible to live up to the hype, but the ceremony seemed flat and well short of a historic high.

The wow factor came at the end when retired gymnast Li Ning, suspended by a cable, circled the stadium before torching the cauldron. At the end of the first hour, a huge globe ascended from the depths of the National Stadium as performers, held by cables, circled it.

"Don't try this at home," advised MacLean, who brought some much needed levity to the telecast.

There was scant reason to criticize the CBC's coverage, but one might have been the seriousness of the tone. Peter Mansbridge is a respected news anchor, but he will never do stand-up.

Still, he gave the telecast the authority and gravitas it needed, given that the Games are in China. Over the next two weeks, we'll get plenty of the other rah-rah stuff.

Mansbridge made note of the incongruity of Russian athletes standing next to Georgians in the stadium, with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looking down, while at the same time Russia was attacking Georgia.

"There used to be a thing about the Olympics," he said. "Truces were signed during the Olympics - no fighting by member nations. Well, we've got a problem."

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The only other technical glitch that affected the CBC was difficulty in communicating with Canadians at the National Stadium's infield. Organizers refused to give CBC access to the athletes.

NBC had access. They always do. But then again, NBC paaaaaaaaays for it.

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