Paralympic TV coverage to set new records

Torchbearer Zach Beaumont lights the cauldron during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Paralympic Games in Vancouver, Friday, March 12, 2010. The opening ceremonies were not broadcast live across the country, but only in B.C. The rest of the country had the opportunity to see a taped broadcast Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER - Competition for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games began Saturday and with it also an unprecedented amount of television coverage across Canada for the Paralympics.

The 57 hours being broadcast by the CTV-Rogers consortium that owns the rights to the Paralympics is drastically less than what was aired during the Olympics themselves.

The opening ceremonies were not broadcast live across the country either, but only in B.C. The rest of the country had the opportunity to see a taped broadcast Saturday.

Still, it's a step forward, said Xavier Gonzalez, the executive director of the International Paralympic Committee.

"It is the largest coverage ever that Canada has had in terms of Paralympic sport," he said in an interview.

"If you look at the television today the amount of news and coverage we are getting is bigger than ever before and we always see the positive side of everything."

Each day of the Games, the consortium will air daily highlights from competition and they'll also be showing all of the men's sledge hockey games, including live broadcasts of the gold medal round.

"We hope that it will be recognized and hope there will be enough of it on television, and there is quite a bit of it, that will give the sports the respect and give it an awareness that is just not there," said Rick Chisolm, executive vice president of broadcasting for Canada's Olympic broadcast media consortium.

"It's not just the limited hours that have been done in the past, it's that it's really late at night, where we're concentrating on the daytime coverage, especially on weekends."

There will be 27 hours of coverage in English on CTV, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet as well as 30 hours of coverage in French on RDS and RIS Info Sports. The additional hours of French are because of rebroadcasts.

The English broadcast team includes Dave Randorf as play-by-play announcer for sledge hockey games with Jake Snyder and Mark Gallant as analysts, while Jamie Campbell will host the highlights show.

In French, Claudine Douville will provide play-by-play for sledge hockey with analyst Jonathan Plante, while Claude Mailhot will be seen daily on the recap show.

Some themes familiar to viewers from the consortium's coverage of the Olympics will return, like the theme music, as well as athlete profiles.

"We're trying to do as much storytelling as we can," said Chisolm.

"If you know about who is competing you will follow them a lot closer."

Rights to broadcast the Paralympics are sold separately from the Olympics.

Vancouver organizers paid the IPC $4 million for marketing rights and recoups some of that money through selling broadcast rights in Canada and abroad.

The federal government gave Vancouver organizers $2 million to help with broadcast coverage.

For the Olympics, CTV-Rogers paid US$93 million but broadcasters reportedly pay less than $50,000 for Paralympic rights.

Chisolm said the consortium expects to break even on its Olympic investment and that ad sales for the Paralympics were strong as well.

Unlike the Olympics, companies are allowed to advertise in the venues for the Paralympics, increasing exposure.

Viewership during the Olympics set new records both for the Games and the networks themselves and Chisolm hopes the Paralympics are a repeat success, though in a different way.

"They certainly won't connect the country, that's been done for a number of different reasons," he said.

"But if you watch the Paralympics and watch what they can do, you cannot watch them without being awed."

The network was harshly criticized fire Friday for choosing not to air the opening ceremonies live across the country, making a last minute choice to show them live in B.C. only and a taped version for the rest of the country on Saturday prior to the first men's sledge hockey games.

According to their current schedule, they aren't airing the closing ceremonies at all.

Internationally, there are more than 20 broadcasters covering some element of the Paralympics.

The IPC's Internet TV channel,www.ParalympicSport.TV, will also provide 150 hours of coverage.

The IPC said it expects the number of broadcasting hours and cumulated TV viewers to exceed that of the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games.

During those Games, there were 285 hours of broadcasting time with an audience of 1.4 billion.