The chief editor of the 64-Chess Review tells about online video coverage of the World Championship.
– This is the sixth tournament that we broadcast online this year, however, this time I was much more nervous, because we are showing women’s chess! It’s such a big responsibility! We all know what to expect from men grandmasters, but showing women is a completely different story.
In addition, this is the first event when we have commentary in three languages: Russian, English and Chinese. Organizing it was quite difficult, but this was a very sensible decision, because there were many players from China. Ju Wenjun was eliminated in the semifinal, and the share of Chinese viewers dropped significantly, but before that we had a certain number of visitors…
– Perhaps Chinese chess fans are not accustomed to follow chess tournaments like that?
– We don’t know much about internet in China, have no detailed information about the audience, broadband availability, etc. And we know even less about popularity of chess in China. The only bit of information comes from our commentator Peng Zhaoqin, who said that a day before the last round of the 2012 Chess Olympiad, when both Chinese teams had winning chances, the largest Chinese newspapers covered the event extensively.
– Mark, tell us about the commentators and the technical part of the coverage.
– With pleasure! Our Chinese-speaking commentator is grandmaster Peng Zhaoqin, she lives in Amsterdam and works from there. Our engineers worked hard to make it possible. GM Sergey Shipov comments in Russian, he is very popular among Russian-speaking viewers and is a very good ambassador of chess. Our English-speaking commentator is Alexander Khalifman, an outstanding player and former World Champion. Our cooperation started at the candidates matches in Kazan.
The commentators are working hard, and it is not an easy job. Until the second game of the final match they worked 5-6 hours every day, and only that short draw gave them a small break. I am very thankful for their excellent work.
The biggest problem is gathering statistical information about our internet audience. We offered our broadcast to all major chess sites to deliver it to as many chess fans as possible. For example, if you got used to watching chess on ChessBase, you don’t have to go to our site. We collecting this data from our partners, although with a slight delay. Yesterday we crossed the mark of half a million viewers. I am not saying these are all unique viewers, because people often use different devices to follow our broadcasts, like different computers and mobile phones, but the number of unique viewers is definitely hundreds of thousands, not tens of thousands. Another valuable statistic is the average time of watching, which is almost an hour. It is very important, because during this hour we also have time to show ads of our sponsors and organizers.
– Mark, you said you had certain worries before the championship. What do you think about it now? How attractive and telegenic are women players?
– Now I started to worry even more! Women players are very beautiful, so showing them on TV is a huge responsibility for our directors and operators. Kasimdzhanov, Aronian or Ivanchuk do not care about their appearance on TV, but girl do care, even if they don’t think about it at the board. I hope we managed to bring women’s chess closer to chess fans, to show them unique beauty of Harika, amazing willpower of Antoaneta Stefanova, mysterious stare of Marie Sebag… I can continue forever. Women players are very beautiful these days, and I hope to match their good looks with artistic quality of our broadcasts someday.
– This format of multimedia broadcast is used for the second time in Khanty-Mansiysk. Are you planning to make any changes to it?
– Of course, we made a lot of progress since the latest World Cup, and will continue improving our product at the next tournaments. The general scheme will stay the same, as it is very natural: we show the player and comment on the game. However, we can make it more interactive by adding an opportunity to communicate with the commentator. We are working on it right now. We also consider adding the computer evaluation. One can find it elsewhere, though, so I don’t know how useful it will be. But we are constantly looking for different ways of improving our coverage and will add some features in future.
– How can one make women’s chess more popular?
– I think chess in general is on the right track. However, women’s chess is yet to find its niche in global sports. Most people view it as a weaker version of chess. In tennis, for example, women are much weaker than men, but women tennis is equally popular.
Objective strength of play is less important, correct positioning is the key. I have no idea what would be the correct positioning for women’s chess, but we don’t even use the most straightforward idea of demonstrating the beauty of our players, which is widely used in more successful sports.
There are many good-looking girls in chess, and they are capable of thinking very beautifully, too. This is a very simple idea, and I hope our broadcasts are doing a good job of promoting it. Our cameras allow to watch the show just like you could do if you were in the playing hall. However, it must be a two-way traffic: the participants should also take viewers into account.
– How is the 64 magazine doing?
– This is always a hot issue by the end of each year. We hope to be able to keep bringing the magazine to our readers, but… I don’t want to sound too pessimistic, but I can’t guarantee right now that our magazine survives. The only thing I can guarantee is that the 12th issue of 2012 will be published with the new World Champion’s face on the cover!
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– GM Susan Polgar