Get Adobe Flash player
An Olympic Effort by Will Strauss With London 2012 upon us, Will Strauss looks back at how the Olympics became synonymous with broadcasting innovation and details some of the key technological landmarks from the introduction of colour TV to this year’s Super Hi-Vision trials. F or obvious reasons, the broadcasting world does not generally hold mass-murdering dictators in high esteem. As was his way, the Nazi leader resolved that everything at the 1938 Berlin Olympics would be bigger and better than at any Games before. * But, in a small way, and despite his many, many faults, the world of television has one such tyrant to thank for the connection between technological innovation and the Olympic Games. And no, this is not a joke. New stadiums were built, an athlete’s village was introduced and, most significantly of all, a filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, was commissioned to document the Olympics. The first handful of modern day Olympiads - in the late 19th and early 20th Century - were fairly low-key events. No fanfare, no fuss. It was only in 1936, prior to the Berlin Games, that someone spotted the huge marketing (nee propaganda) potential of a multi-discipline sporting event that would bring huge swathes of the world together. That person was Adolf Hitler. In order to please Herr Fuhrer, Riefenstahl used the longest lenses, utilized high-speed recording for slo- mo shots and generally innovated in a way that few had done previously. The film was not released until 18 months after the Games but the spirit of innovation that marked its production lives on and, pretty much ever since, the global celebration of sporting endeavor is matched every four years by an Olympian desire to extend the boundaries of broadcasting Credit: commons.wikimedia.org and, as Hitler decreed, be bigger and better than what has gone before. We can see this happening constantly through the ages. In some cases the Olympics were the catalyst for innovation. In others, they were merely the venue for first trials or successful deployment. Either way, the Olympics and broadcast-related technological are intrinsically linked. Here are some highlights: Berlin 1936 Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics were not only filmed by Riefenstahl they were also the first Games ever to be broadcast and, by all accounts, the first televised sporting event full stop. With virtually nobody owning a domestic TV set at this stage the coverage was instead shown to local Berlin and Hamburg residents in specially built television halls. London 1948 The Olympics that followed WWII, the so-called “Austerity Games”, were the first to be shown on a home television service. The BBC spent a whopping £1,500 obtaining the rights so that they could broadcast the Games to the 60,000 homes that had TV sets. Records suggest that up 500,000 people, mainly from within a few miles of the capital, tuned in. London 1948 not only marked the first ever 48 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE