Czech TV launches digital sports channel to coincide with start of Winter Olympics

09-02-2006

All eyes will be on Turin on Friday, for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games. Coinciding with the start of the games, and in a further step towards the digitalization of television in the Czech Republic, public broadcaster Czech TV is on Friday starting a new channel which will feature nothing but sport.

From Friday Czech sports fans will be able to watch a wide variety of sports to their heart's content on the all new CT 4 Sport - if they have a digital receiver or an internet connection. Otakar Cerny is the head of Czech TV's sports department; I asked him why a sports channel, and why now.

"If digital TV is going to take off in this country, then Czech Television has the duty to promote it, which we are doing through this sports channel. It's no coincidence that it's beginning now - we chose the start of the Winter Olympics because the timing is good in terms of PR."

As for the Czech sports community, the new channel means they will get a lot more coverage than has hitherto been the case. Petr Hrubec is the secretary general of the Czech Olympic Committee.

"We are really looking forward to the new sports channel, not only for the Olympic Games but we hope that some smaller sports like volleyball, basketball or others which were not really covered because there was not enough time, because you know sport number one is soccer here...so we hope it will help all sports activities that are not so popular, and because there will be 24 hours - or actually 16 hours per day - they will also have time for these smaller sports."

Czech Television's Otakar Cerny says the new station will indeed devote more time to minority sports. But given that few people in this country have digital TV, will many fans miss out? And will some big events be shown simultaneously on the terrestrial Czech TV 2 (which traditionally broadcasts sport) and the new station? Otakar Cerny again.

"There will be a difference, but it won't be dramatic. We can't shortchange viewers who aren't able to pick up a digital signal. But for example when we show Champions League football games, there will be different matches on each channel, so people will have a choice. It'll be the same with the Czech ice hockey playoffs - viewers will be able to choose between two games."

Czechs may be interested in sport, but they don't turn out to watch events live in great numbers. Czech league football games in particular suffer from extremely low attendances. Would it be fair to say that Czechs tend to be stay-at-home "armchair fans"?

"Yes, that's it exactly. Czechs like comfort, they like being at home. They like sitting back in front of the TV, which is good for us in television, to be perfectly honest with you. It's the problem of clubs if people don't go to games - it's cold, there are hooligans...If clubs put things right fans might go. But if there are no refreshments, no toilets...I'm not surprised people don't go."

Otakar Cerny says apart from the Winter Olympics the biggest event for Czech Television 4 Sport this year will be the football World Cup. Let's hope fans are jumping out of their armchairs to celebrate Czech success in Germany.

09-02-2006