Olympic pirate sites caught in the act

The IOC's restrictions on online coverage of the Sydney Games, in particular the use of video and audio streaming, caused controversy in the lead-up to the competition when web journalists were refused official media accreditation.

In an effort to protect broadcasters' rights, the IOC banned any broadcast of what it labelled "interactive" content including moving images and replays, as well as live audio broadcasts of the Games.

Led by US broadcaster NBC, the world's television media reportedly forked out $US1.3 billion collectively for the TV rights to broadcast the Sydney Games.

According to David Aikman, IOC marketing manager, business development, the Committee was "not trying to restrict freedom of speech", but rather protect its partners.

"We want to protect the rights of broadcasters and other rights holders foremost because they provide 60 per cent of the funds," he said.

Aikman also argued that today's streaming technology and bandwidth problems are restricting opportunities. "We don't see the bandwidth required to do good quality streaming video until 2004 or 2008. It's still on the horizon," he said.

Since the start of competition, 40-45 violators worldwide have been caught streaming Olympic coverage online since the start of the competition, according to Aikman.

"The doomsday scenario hasn't happened, " Aikman said. "I was imagining great server farms in Ethiopia pumping out live broadcasts . . . it's been nothing like that."

Instead of little-known websites streaming television coverage through a video camera to the web, Aikman said the main offenders have been broadcasters with Olympic broadcasting rights who have misunderstood the guidelines set out by the IOC.

"We thought one of the major sports portals would push the envelope, but they haven't. We did find a few sports portals in small countries but in fact when they were contacted they were able to remove the offending audio or video file."

Offending files on sites have been taken down quickly and cooperatively, he said.

The IOC contracted two companies, Copyright Control Systems in the US and French company Datops, to monitor internet breaches in addition to the usual commercial infringements and broadcasting.

Aikman admitted the model for coverage of the Olympic Games in the future would be "interesting", but said a two-day conference to be held in December this year would assist with planning.

Key internet gurus and world sporting federations will meet to determine the best way to use the internet and "commercially exploit the internet rights of the Games", Aikman said.

"From our perspective, we see real potential in this space. The internet has a direct relationship with fans but for us it is still only 1 per cent of the television audience," Aikman said. "Money is better spent on sports as mistakes are costly in the internet world."

While Aikman would not comment specifically on the relationship between Australian Olympic broadcaster Channel 7, the Australian Olympic Committee and the site http://www.olympics.com.au, he said broadcasters would be the IOC's "primary partners", at least in the short term.

"It would be inconceivable to put in place a global internet or new media strategy that didn't involve broadcasters and a relationship with the written press."

Meanwhile, one company that has come closest to streaming live broadcasts is boutique ISP and digital TV provider Access1. The company has signed an agreement with the Seven Network to broadcast its live TV coverage over Access1's satellite internet connection.

For a subscription fee between $54.90 and $76.95, companies and individuals can have Seven's Olympics coverage broadcast on their PC.

Furthermore, Access1 has just extended this agreement to include internet café chain Global Gossip.

Global Gossip's Oxford Street and Bondi stores in Sydney will carry the AccessTV service -- including two channels of the Olympics plus C7 Sports and CD-quality music via Bigfatradio -- for the duration of the Games, said a statement released by Access1.

"For a long time the internet promised but never delivered entertainment in the same quality we have come to expect from television and compact discs," claimed Access1 executive chairman David Spence.

"AccessTV broadcasts up to 25 frames a second which puts us way ahead of current webcasting quality."

According to officials, Access1 has been able to broadcast Olympics coverage because of its subscriber-based audience.

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