Big leap forward ... Foxtel and Nine promise saturation coverage from the London Games. Photo: Tim Clayton
IT COULD be the high water mark of Olympic broadcasting or the shape of things to come, but either way the local TV industry is throwing everything it has got at the London Games.
Foxtel, Nine and Macquarie Radio as well as other media outlets are sending about 460 people - meaning there will be nearly 60 more journalists and production staff from the media contingent than Australian athletes attending.
Foxtel alone will broadcast 3200 hours in total - 1100 of them live - putting it in the top league of total hours broadcast by any TV station globally and making it available on tablet for Foxtel subscribers. For its part Nine will broadcast 300 hours, with live coverage through the night.
Already the pair, which between them spent $100 million securing the rights to the Vancouver and London games, are squaring off. Both are claiming to be live, though with eight channels at its disposal Foxtel is able to say it will cover all events in full and live.
Pete Campbell, Foxtel's head of sport said the point of difference with Foxtel was ''long-form coverage''. ''Nine will be predominantly your traditional terrestrial broadcaster in terms of the way the Olympic games have been covered. They will do wonderful short packages, they'll do terrific highlights packages, and they'll bounce from event to event looking for the Australians, looking for some of the higher-profile internationals.''
Nine will run 16.5 hours of live coverage, from the beginning of Australian prime time through the night and finishing up at nine the next morning. Nine has confirmed it has permission from the federal government to broadcast some of the coverage in 3D on a separate channel.
But unlike Foxtel, which is contracted to run every event in full, Nine says it will have greater flexibility. Nine's managing director, Jeffrey Browne, said: ''We have the ability to go from event-to-event, ensuring the biggest moments of what's tipped to be the biggest Olympic Games in history will be available in every Australian home for free.''
Both, however, are hoping for a ratings bonanza. During the Beijing games Seven had an average nightly audience of about 2.1 million viewers. Foxtel is also pinning its hopes on luring more people to pay TV. Earlier this year Foxtel reported total subscriber numbers just outpaced Australia's population growth rate, rising 2.1 per cent in the second half of last year to 1.65 million homes.
Total production costs for the Australian broadcasters is expected to top $30 million, industry sources say. Campbell would not discuss figures but said: ''It's a big investment, for sure, but we will get it back for the business.''
Earlier this year Foxtel said it was waiving the charge for its existing sports subscribers, who make up about 80 per cent of its customers. New subscribers will pay between $61 and $100 a month for the basic Foxtel package with the Olympic channels. Marketing will start in June, Mr Campbell said.
Nine and Foxtel will share a commentary team, but will have separate teams calling the swimming races. Foxtel's team is Susie O'Neill, Rebecca Wilson and the radio personality Ray Hadley, who is also calling for 2GB. Nine will have Ray Warren, Grant Hackett and Giaan Rooney. Foxtel's studio star will be Matt Shirvington while Nine will rely on Ken Sutcliffe.