ECONOMY

Latest technology at the service of Euro 2004, Athens Olympics

AMSTERDAM – Internet and mobile phones will debut as a major part of this year’s two big sporting events: the Olympic Games in Athens and the European soccer championship in Portugal. Four years after the Sydney Olympics – which coincided with the bursting of the technology stock bubble – the Internet has quietly turned into a mainstream medium that will offer live audio coverage for soccer fans anywhere in the world, video highlights on mobile phones, instant scoring updates, route finders to stadiums and tickets. After the Sydney Games, broadcasters such as NBC complained that they had earned little money with their Internet sites compared with their television coverage, and the hard core of European soccer fans still failed to jump on the 2002 FIFA World Cup highlights offered in conjunction with Yahoo. Over the last two years, however, the number of broadband subscribers has doubled, fueling appetite for streaming media services. It is also the first European sporting summer in which mobile telecoms operators have well-functioning multimedia networks that can be used to send video clips and pictures to handsets. «For us this is a great opportunity to show to our customers the photo and video services they can get on their mobile phone,» said Pim van der Feltz, marketing director at the Dutch unit of Germany’s mobile carrier T-Mobile. With a 4.50-euro ($5.43) offer for video or photo highlights of a customer’s favorite team during Euro 2004, T-Mobile hopes to convert its European clients to multimedia messages on cell phones – as yet used by only one in five mobile phone owners. «Media and telecoms companies are really taking advantage of these big events. They are catalysts for future growth,» said new media analyst Helen Omwando at Forrester industry research. Video highlights On the wireline Internet, the European Football Association has a 14.95-euro offer for live audio commentary of all the 31 Euro 2004 games from June 12 to July 4, plus video highlights in seven languages. The Athens2004.com website will offer no video coverage of major events, because this is exclusively licensed to television broadcasters who have paid large sums for the footage. But broadcasters can use clips on their Internet sites if they wish. However, the Olympic site will offer instant live updates of all scores and results at the August 13-29 Games. Organizers expect 10 million visitors a day, compared with 3 million at the last Games, the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City in 2002. In an Olympic first, handset maker Samsung Electronics and mobile carrier CosmOTE have developed a wireless website with all the key information about the event, including the competition schedule, medals tables, venue maps, weather, results, entertainment and athletes’ biographies. Some 12,500 phones with big color screens will be put in the hands of support staff to improve services to spectators as well as Olympic athletes. There will also be a wired and wireless Games website for spectators who are visiting Athens. Ticket sales are online, while 1,000 different kinds of entry cards of some 300,000 specially accredited visitors will be checked via the Internet, another new system on this scale. The wireless network used by security and emergency services will be digital, as opposed to Sydney’s analog network. Laptop computers In Portugal, wireless computer networks known as Wireless LAN or Wi-Fi will be installed in all soccer stadiums to make it easier for journalists and staff to connect to the Internet and work on laptop computers. With a budget of below 2 billion euros and ambitious targets for technology infrastructure, Athens 2004 – like Euro 2004 – has to rely heavily on corporate sponsors. At both events, the companies that will push the limits of technology are almost all coming from Asia, where new firms are eager to break into the European and US markets. Taiwan electronics company BenQ Corp is Euro 2004’s technology sponsor. «We’re doing this to increase our profile in Europe. We’re still small here,» a spokeswoman for BenQ Europe said. Japan’s Canon will put its latest digital EOS 1D model in the hands of professional football photographers, who will be able to shoot eight frames of eight-megapixel pictures in a second, double the old performance.