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Hi-tech, low penetration

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Many Firsts: World Cup 2006 will introduce many emerging technologies. Photo: Reuters
Many Firsts: World Cup 2006 will introduce many emerging technologies. Photo: Reuters

BY SEVANTI NINAN

The 2006 edition of the football World Cup will see a number of technological innovations in broadcasting.

TO the majority of TV viewers of the World Cup matches starting Friday, this year's technological firsts are of no more than academic interest. Even in more technologically advanced countries, few viewers have the wherewithal to make the most of the first football World Cup series where all the matches will be transmitted in HDTV (High Definition Television). The high definition service, which promises that you can see every blade of grass on the field, will only be available to viewers who have HD-enabled TV sets, set-top boxes and relevant services via satellite and cable distributors. In India, Samsung and Philips offer the plasma screen and TV sets required, but there is currently no HDTV transmission.

Not many to benefit

In Britain, both BBC and Sky TV will be doing HDTV transmissions but don't expect too many people to benefit. The BBC is kicking off a year-long trial run of HDTV in May, but its director of sport, Roger Mosey, is on record saying that while the trial would only be available to a selected group of viewers, he hoped it would prove to be "a glimpse of the future". And Sky, which launched its HD service in time for the games, is having trouble shipping the number of set-top boxes required in time for the first game, to those who have signed up for it. HBS (Host Broadcast Services), based in Zug, Switzerland, are the host broadcasters for the tournament, having been hired by the Zurich-based Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to provide the 2006 World Cup in HDTV. It has to provide the signals to upwards of 300 broadcast partners who will provide radio and TV coverage in some 200 countries. It is a subsidiary of Infront Sports, contracted by FIFA to handle the worldwide marketing and sales of the broadcast rights to 2006 FIFA World Cup. Infront's spokesperson said recently that the number of people who will be able to enjoy the HDTV transmission is small but the industry hopes it will have a demonstration effect (www.tvtechnology.com) .Small is an understatement, and given what it has taken to make the HDTV transmission possible, it will be both an exorbitant and painstaking demonstration. The mobile HD trucks did not exist when the decision was taken in 2003 to do the broadcast in this mode, and these have since been built. The accompanying surround sound with 5.1 soundtracks as well as the graphics, have taken a fair amount of organising as well. There was some limited HDTV transmission during the 2002 World Cup, but this time it is a full-scale production. The other technological first during this World Cup will be its broadcast on DVB-H which has been launched in Italy and elsewhere. It stands for Digital Video Broadcast - Handheld, and a mobile TV, branded as "WalkTV" by a company called 3 Italia, plans to offer 9 hours of live match broadcasting every day on its service. Europe UK : 3, the mobile media company, has also announced its programming package for this tournament which includes made-for-mobile TV shows and fast-turnaround match highlights. These channels are opening up a new avenue of employment for seasoned sports broadcasters! Now you can create sports content for mobile TV. Mobile rights for match broadcasting will be a first this year. A firm called Up-Mobile Corp, for instance, has bagged the Spanish language mobile broadcasting rights for World Cup 2006.

The mobile scene in India

Again, a fact of no more than academic interest for most of us. In India, DD has access to the spectrum required for mobile broadcasting and while it has been wooing mobile companies to consider launching a service, as of now mobile viewing of the World Cup is not an option here. And that apart, clever and innovative as it may sound, why would you want to watch the matches on your mobile phone except for brief periods when you might be on the move?On the Net, the BBC website is going to offer an improved version of its Virtual Replay innovation that it has offered before: it offers users the chance to watch 3D animations of all shots and goals from each of the World Cup matches after they happen. ESPNsoccernet is providing blanket online coverage, and in your newspapers you will get what they are best at, enormous volume of coverage, and hyperbole gone wild.


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