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Digital Era Dawns at Olympics

What will advances in digital arts and technology offer the Beijing 2008 Olympics?

Participants at the First Beijing Olympics International Digital Film and TV Forum discussed just this question early last week in Beijing.


The international forum, which will be held annually until 2008, serves as a platform for top filmmakers, TV programers, artists and others from around the world to offer their solutions for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, according to organizers.


Jiang Xiaoyu, vice-president of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Organizing Committee, said: "I hope that the international forum becomes a regular channel for Olympic Organizing Committee leaders to keep up to date with the latest development in digital film and TV technology. It will provide a foundation for hosting the best Olympic Games in history in Beijing."


The Beijing Games have been dubbed the "high-tech Olympics," "people's Olympics" and "green Olympics."


According to participants at the symposium, Beijing's "digital Olympics" program aims to enhance telecommunications infrastructure and network systems to improve its information technology (IT) environment. By 2008, local information services will be inexpensive, rich in content, free of language barriers, personalized and available to anyone, anytime, anywhere.


But digital technology is not only limited to information and communication systems and could have more varied applications, they said.


Digital technology could bring challenges and opportunities for China's film, TV, entertainment, education, service, and security industries.


In his opening speech, Sam Carter, director of the Asian Arts Center at Emily Arts College in Canada, talked about combining Chinese culture with digital art and technology for the design, rehearsal, performance and broadcast of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.


Carter has worked on the design and choreography of previous Olympic Games.


He was also commissioned by the Canadian Government to conduct a three-week special training program for the Beijing Olympics last year at the School of Arts in the capital's Tsinghua University. The program explored artistic options for the opening and closing ceremonies.


"The Chinese seal logo has already given the world a design landmark. I believe that the Beijing 2008 Olympics will certainly be a most fascinating one," Carter said.


Another speaker at the forum was Steven Bonica, former vice-president of advanced technology research and development of the US network NBC. He was in charge of broadcasting of the Atlanta and Sydney Olympic Games. Bonica outlined the steps that Beijing needs to take to meet its short-term and long-term requirements. He said that Beijing needs to partner with leading global companies as China extends its high-definition data and cable television services.


Broadcasters will deliver the Olympics to over 3.5 billion people worldwide. Nine out of every 10 households that watch television are expected to tune into part of the Olympics broadcast, Bonica said. The wide use of digital high definition television technology will ensure top quality production, transmission and broadcast of the events at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.


Hu Bo, chairman of Beijing Longevity Digital Entertainment Production and producer of the film for Beijing's 2000 and 2008 Olympic Games bids, helped organize the international forum.


"Digital television is the next technological revolution after the invention of color television," Hu said.


"The huge population in China creates a huge potential market for the digital television industry which could help lift China's information industries to a new height."


China has about 350 million TV sets at present. If it takes 10 years to replace analogue TV sets with digital TV sets, at least 35 million sets will be replaced each year. If a mid-range digital TV set costs about 2,000 yuan (US$241), the market will be worth at least 70 billion yuan (US$8.46 billion).


Digital television will change people's way of life -- how they access information, communicate, do business, entertain and educate themselves, predicts Hu.


The Chinese Government has included the digitization of China's television, family entertainment and education industries in its 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05).


According to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, radio, television and film production and broadcast, cable network and satellite transmission, will all go digital by the year 2010. By 2015, China's content production, broadcasting and transmission systems will all be digitized. Analogue television systems and networks will be eliminated eventually.


E-learning and e-training


Advances in digital technology will also benefit education, such as e-learning.


"E-learning is one of the best ways to train a large population," said Joel Mills, director and co-founder of the American Academy of Arts and a distance education specialist.


Mills said that e-education, with flexible schedules, customized content and hybrid teaching models, may speed up training for the next generation of digital artists in China's film, TV and media industries.


Hu Bo said, "With the rapid development of technology and people's demand for education mounting, so-called e-learning, or on-line long distance education, has become very popular and important in China. In some areas, e-learning has played a role traditional classroom education cannot accomplish."


To prepare for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, at least 6 million Chinese, including staff for the organizing committee, and in the service, retail, police, volunteer, technical and medical support sectors, reportedly need to improve their English language skills.


E-learning breaks down the barriers of time and location, integrating education resources. When compared with traditional ways of teaching and learning, it is far more cost-effective for both the teachers and the students.


William G. Eggington, a professor in linguistics at Brigham Young University of the United States, and Alan K. Melby, a member of the Board of Directors of the American Translators Association, pointed out that Beijing needs massive language training in its preparation for the Games.


Eggington explained how digital technology can be incorporated into an Olympics language plan.


He said approximately 90 percent of the world's new information is stored and retrieved in English. It is vital for China to use the Olympics as a catalyst to boost English acquisition to prepare itself for the digital revolution, he said.


Fostering digital media


The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games is not only an international sports event. It is also an international media event, attracting the attention of approximately 12,000 overseas journalists and at least 4 billion sports fans from about 200 countries and regions.


"It is no doubt a golden opportunity for China to show its best side to the whole world," Stan Foster said in his symposium speech.


Foster is a founder of the American Academy of Arts and has been a member of the prestigious Directors Guild of America for nearly 30 years.


"The preparation work for the Games can be used as a catalyst to boost China's digital radio, television, film and media industries.


"If China gets started right now, it is not too late for it to cultivate a new generation of digital artists and broadcasters who will not only serve the 2008 Olympic Games but also the future of China's television, film and media industries," Foster said.


He said training programs must allow students to have "hands-on" experience so that they learn a craft by creating projects, not through film theory or class lecture.


In China's film and television industry, at least 60,000 digital staff reportedly need to be trained for the Olympic Games.


Beijing should also take account of the rapid development of digital technology in its plans. In the last 15 years, the media industry has seen unprecedented changes, affecting television, motion pictures, publishing and graphics, Foster said.


(China Daily October 8, 2003)




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