We can't match lavish BBC for the Paralympics, admits C4 chief
Chief executive says lack of interest from abroad will limit scope – but still expects best Games ever
Channel 4's Paralympics coverage may not match the BBC's "Martini" Olympic output because of a lack of support from foreign broadcasters, the network's chief executive has warned.
David Abraham promised his channel would provide the best coverage of any Paralympic Games to date, but said viewers should not expect the breadth of footage that delighted BBC viewers earlier in the summer.
Whereas 147 international networks contributed to the pooled Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS) coverage of the main games, just 16 are taking part in televising the disabled competitors. Channel 4 is the only international broadcaster covering the games in full.
In an interview with The Independent, Mr Abraham said that he wanted the channel to be the home of Paralympics coverage for years to come. "We want and expect this to have the kind of lasting impact it deserves to have and it would be great if we were able to bid for and continue to run the Paralympics in four years time when it's in Brazil. That would be very much our hope." Since beating the BBC in a pitch to broadcast the London Paralympics, Channel 4 has spent two years preparing for 500 hours of coverage across its main channel and More 4. It will offer further footage on three streamed networks set up for the Paralympics and accessible through the Channel 4 website and on Freeview, satellite and cable television.
Mr Abraham said Channel 4 would be placing additional cameras at events to compensate for the limited contribution to coverage from other broadcasters. "There are some nice [technical] innovations and add-ons that the OBS is not planning to provide because of the smaller number of broadcasters but where we have been able to we have done a little bit of added extras to ensure that if we want a slo-mo camera at the wheelchair basketball we put one in. That's something the BBC didn't have to worry about – they were getting perfect feeds and they just had to focus on their presentation."
The combination of Britain having founded Paralympic sport at Stoke Mandeville in 1948, hosting the games in 2012 after a spectacularly successfully Olympics and the outstanding performance of British Paralympians in Beijing 2008 has created an unprecedented hunger for coverage. But that is not generally shared overseas, despite considerable interest in Australia, Germany and China.
"The scale of how the games are covered has increased quite markedly," said Abraham. "Having said that it is different from the Olympics, we have a much smaller number of countries and the majority are running highlights. We are the only broadcaster in the world doing it on the scale of the Olympics in relative terms."
He said that he wasn't concerned that viewers might compare Channel 4's output – which is being made by specialist sports broadcasters Sunset & Vine and IMG – to the BBC's coverage. "We won't have as many streams and we don't think we need to do the kind of Martini coverage that the BBC did, but nonetheless it's going to be far closer to watching the coverage of the Olympics than it was watching the last Paralympics."
Despite Channel 4's traditionally irreverent relationship to patriotism in its approach to events such as the Queen's Speech, Abraham has not told presenters to tone down the nationalism in their coverage. "I would imagine there will be a massive amount of pride around Team GB's success because, let's face it, they came second in Beijing. We should be at ease with our team's success."
He said Channel 4's "stunning" studio at the Olympic stadium was inherited from Canadian broadcaster CBC. He hopes the network's coverage will be remembered for the "freshness" and "youthful energy", with a presenting team that includes eight graduates of a talent search for disabled broadcasters. He said he hoped they would become "household names".
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