Friday, September 12, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Comparing US's NBC and China's CCTV Coverage of the Opening Ceremonies

I finally came back to Shenzhen after staying in Beijing for the Olympics and post-Olympic festivities for about a month. After a few days of movie watching, video games playing and takeout in my new apartment, I finally decided to venture out into the local neighborhood in the Nanshan district.

At the local bootleg 5RMB bootleg DVD stand, I was able to get the new Mummy 3 as well as a great version of the Iron Man and Batman movies. (Note: Although the government has definitely cracked down on the sale of bootleg DVDs for the past few years, they are still found in different neighborhoods sold by a few people.) To my surprise I also found the DVD with the full version of the NBC broadcast of the 2008 Beijing Olympic opening ceremony. Wow.

After watching the live ceremony in Ditan park in north Beijing with 5000 people and rebroadcasts on Chinese TV multiple times, I wanted to see the NBC version. (My friend actually interned for NBC during the Olympics and helped edit and translate footage for different events.) I wanted to see how the US viewed the opening ceremony and the games. Remember back in 1996, Chinese people in America protested Bob Costas for his comments about Chinese athletes.

Overall, the coverage was very positive. Here are some of the things I saw:

  • NBC did an excellent job with the political issues surrounding China hosting the Olympics. They showed China in a pretty positive light with only a few comments referencing political issues. You could even see the commentators tread lightly on the political issues.
  • NBC camera work during the artistic portion at the beginning was better than the Chinese CCTV coverage. CCTV spent a lot of time focused on specific performers during each stage while NBC used many more wide-camera angles to get the big picture.
  • Bob Costas and Matt Lauer “warned” the American viewers about the sheer size and scale of the ceremony before it started. They also commented during the initial drum performance that viewers might consider it “awe inspiring and perhaps somewhat intimidating.”
  • In his post Opening Ceremony press conference, Jiang Yimou explained that the entire cost of the ceremony was less than the previous opening ceremony of the Doha Asian Games held in 2007, held in a oil rich Arab country. He wanted tog et the maximum effect for the least cost.
  • A huge amount of emphasis was put on the importance of the Olympics in China and the “overwhelming sense of pride the Chinese people in the days leading up to it. The same amount of importance was also on the idea of “harmony” in the Chinese psyche and the theme of the Olympics.
  • Commercial interruption on NBC really sucks for an event like this. No commercials in China. FYI, the transitions were pretty flawless just like the rest of the ceremony.
  • Quotes by Bob Costas: “Woah” (when Li Ning was lifted up to light the flame) and “When it comes to opening ceremonies, retire the trophy.”
  • NBC invited their China expert to co-host and give more perspective on the games. He did an excellent job with the symbolism invoked in the performance as well as more interesting tidbits into Chinese history. A lot of the political issues were also put in a historical context, something a lot of Americans lack while looking at China.
  • A great explanation of the combination of people doing "karate" around a group a school children was just an example - a harmony of man with nature is the only hope the children of the future have to solve all of the problems in the world.
  • There were a lot of shots of the members of the “Redeem Team”, the USA Men’s Basketball team. With a lot of star power and constant presence, Lebron James, Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant were repeated shown to be taking pictures with other athletes from different countries.
  • While CCTV commentators were part of the event, reading scripted material that aided the audience in every piece, the transitions and symbolism in very Chinese artistic language, the NBC trio was very spontaneous, joking and dumbstruck by the show. This was probably because they weren’t “in the know”

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