Getting Stations in Gear for Games

Jul 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Two days before leaving for Beijing last week, NBC News Channel President Bob Horner still hadn’t finished his personal packing.
The good news, however, was that everything else about his Charlotte, N.C.-based operation’s major undertaking on behalf of NBC-affiliated stations seemed to be proceeding according to schedule, despite bureaucracy he describes as “within tolerable limits” for a team accustomed to working in foreign countries.
The NBC News Channel, which serves as an affiliate’s news clearinghouse on a regular basis and as a pool service for affiliates on major events, has been setting up at the Beijing International Convention Center. That’s across the street and not quite a mile away from the so-called Bird’s Nest Stadium, site of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and one of the venues for major competitions that hug the vast Olympic Green.
When everything is set up—from transformers to convert China’s 220-volt electrical current and satellite uplink facilities to an open newsroom and workspaces—the site will house approximately 350 people. A little more than half will be working directly for NBC News and the shows, such as “Today” and “Nightly News,” originating from Beijing during the Games, which start Aug. 8.
Almost 150 people will be working for the NBC News Channel, delegations from affiliates and a staff from the NBC-owned stations group, now known as NBC Local Media. The latter produces the “O-Zone” show, designed to be stripped throughout the Games in local stations’ access daypart, with room for individual stations to insert hyperlocal content.
Mr. Horner’s technical folks preceded him in order to set up the newsroom and the connectivity needed to accommodate the text, video and Web content that will be shipped back to stations throughout the country.
For the affiliates who have sent crews to Beijing to cover the Games for their markets, the NBC News Channel will provide a range of logistical, editorial and video assistance.
For stations without staff at the Games, NBC News Channel producers, cameramen and reporters will turn out content for about 2,000 customized live shots over the course of the two-week event, most concentrating on the progress of athletes with connections to their markets. Digital technology makes everything easier, from production to efficient use of satellite spectrum.
On site in Beijing, affiliates will have a newsroom to work in, an area where they can watch feeds from all the Olympic sites and even record material they might find useful.
Some TV content will be shipped via a fiber optic line back to the United States and up onto a transponder that’s easily accessible to local stations.
A not inconsequential service will be food, made available from hotel caterers, thanks to the efforts of producers working with NBC Sports & Olympic Chairman Dick Ebersol’s team, which will be housed at the Olympic broadcast center on the Green.
The Olympic assignment is a grueling one that is not for everyone, said Mr. Horner. He told his troops, “It’s not that glamorous when you’re in the 17th hour of an 18-hour day two weeks in and you’re tired.”
Still, he had more people lobbying for the assignment than he had room for on the team, which is a mix of veterans of Games coverage and those getting their first taste of it.
To the extent possible, Mr. Horner’s team tries to arrange tickets that allow everybody the opportunity to actually attend at least one competition.
The NBC News Channel shipped most of its gear a couple of months ago by water, which saved money; it shipped more stuff Wednesday and will send some last-minute things by air.
Because Chinese import regulations “happen to be unusually strict and precise,” the NBC News Channel uses professional shipping companies that know how to comply and suggests the same for affiliates, who are provided with the requisite customs forms.
The bureaucratic process in China is “a little more elaborate,” sometimes because “it can be a little difficult for somebody who doesn’t live there to understand the proper unit of government to deal with, so there’s a learning curve. But NBC has full-time people who live and work in Beijing 365 days a year,” Mr. Horner said.
There will be help with translating from Chinese employees of NBC and from short-term Chinese staffers, some of whom will be students who have been attending college in the U.S. Hopefully most are familiar with the short cuts and other ways of the populous metropolitan Beijing.
“Probably the operative phrase would be that it does go forward, but it goes forward more slowly than a comparable event here in the U.S.,” he said about the process of preparing the Beijing facilities.
He added quickly that the people producing NBC News Channel’s coverage from the Democratic National Convention Aug. 25-28 in Denver and the Republican National Convention Sept. 1-4 in St. Paul, Minn., might disagree.
Mr. Horner, who will leave Beijing the morning of Aug. 26 and arrive back in Charlotte that same evening, will not be working on site at the conventions; NBC News Channel executive producer Sharon Houston will be in charge.


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