Wednesday, June 21, 2006
London – A few hundred England fans weren’t watching the 2006 FIFA World Cup match against Sweden last night in a pub or at home, but instead had ventured out to their local cinema to see the game on the big screen. A number of Odeon cinemas nationwide have been using digital projection technology to screen the matches live with a high definition (HD) picture. HD broadcasts contain a greater level of detail than traditional TV broadcasts, meaning a sharper picture and better sound quality.
In the darkened auditorium of the cinema in Covent Garden, the audience (or should that be crowd?) were behaving almost as if they were at the stadium, singing along to the national anthem, cheering at the England goals and groaning at the Sweden chances. At times, chants being sung by the England crowd at the match were even picked up and sung along to by those watching the cinema screen like some kind of football karaoke contest.
Trailers before the match were replaced by a soundtrack of England anthems, both the successful and not-so-successful ones, and the traditional movie treat of popcorn was replaced by trays of beer (in plastic cups) being brought in by the punters. The cinema had cheekily listed the screening as being ‘directed by Sven-Göran Eriksson’ and as ‘starring Wayne Rooney (hopefully)’.
Despite a disappointing 2-2 draw, the audience seemed impressed with the experience. “I’m a bit short and so wanted to make sure I had good view without having to jostle around for position,” Amanda, from London, explained to me. “I also liked that it was non-smoking, and there was a fabulous atmosphere”. Sian, Caio and Laura, who lived locally, said they wanted to see the match on the big screen and commented on the excellent picture quality.
Other events that have been broadcast by the cinema chain include concerts by Robbie Williams and Elton John. Odeon Marketing Director Luke Vetere said “offering films is just one part of the cinema experience – our ambition is to offer guests the chance to watch other events they feel passionate about”. Watching football in the cinema is not a brand new event though, during previous World Cups such as in 1966, film footage from the matches was broadcast in cinemas after the event, providing a way for people to see the games in colour when TV broadcasts were in black and white.
Cinema screenings aren’t the only way that fans can watch the World Cup games in high-definition this year though, as both Sky TV and Telewest have been broadcasting the games in HD to viewers with a special set-top box. There have been trials with HD on the growing Freeview platform too, with a pilot group of a few hundred viewers in London. However, as any move to roll out HD on Freeview would use up extra space on the broadcast spectrum and would require viewers to buy a new set-top box, it seems unlikely that this will happen any time soon.