Web Trek: The Search for SPOC

The Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee (SPOC) has signed an agreement with US internet media company We Media to webcast more than 100 hours of Paralympic coverage live. We Media was also awarded the US television broadcasting rights to the Games under the same contract.

Not restricted by the International Olympic Committee's ban on live internet streaming enforced for the Olympic Games, traditional television broadcasting of the Paralympics will be complemented by live internet coverage.

According to Simon Thomas, SPOC's senior manager for television, the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) decision to leave worldwide marketing and broadcasting rights in the hands of the host city allowed SPOC to form the landmark agreement. "Because we were operating on a pretty clean slate, we went for a webcaster first and then sold broadcasting rights," Thomas said.

Television coverage of the Paralympics is traditionally fairly limited on mainstream and commercial television stations with only highlights programs, he said. "We wanted to widen the coverage and try and organise a webcast."

Thomas added that the decision to sell TV and internet rights as a single package to We Media also helped avoid many of the issues faced by the IOC. "It (removed) any issue of competitiveness between the Webcast and one of our largest TV markets, the US," he said.

Additionally, by establishing an internet rights agreement prior to approaching broadcasters, SPOC was able to discuss broadcasting rights from a position of strength. "In our case, broadcasting rights holders accepted they were not necessarily in competition with the web. It's complementary," Thomas said. Where television broadcasters are likely to only show country-specific highlights, the internet will provide more comprehensive, objective worldwide coverage, he said.

In the case of the Olympics, broadcasters were concerned they would lose television audiences to the web. Under the Paralympic's webcast contract, We Media will produce 100 hours of internet coverage over three streams. The coverage will be "universal and objective" to cater for the worldwide audience and will include information on local television broadcasts, Thomas said.

While Thomas admitted it is still difficult to get true television quality over the internet, he said We Media aims to have a "pretty good" viewer experience, with users in the US and Europe expected to have a better chance than Australians. "Anyone with a high-speed connection should be able to get a pretty good picture," he said.

Meanwhile, despite the big differences between the Paralympics and the Olympics, Thomas believes the IOC will be watching We Media's coverage "very closely" as large issues are at stake for the Olympic movement.

"The most important factor will be whether webcasters can establish a consistent source of revenue equivalent to TV advertising so that they can re-finance the large rights acquisitions that would be necessary, particularly in the Olympics. Until they do, and everyone's on a level playing field, it will be the players with the largest cheque books who will rule. At the moment, and in the foreseeable future for the Olympics at least, that still seems to be the big TV networks," Thomas said.

Internet coverage of the Paralympics can be accessed from We Media or via the official Paralympics site, run by official technology provider IBM.

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