How the web is changing how we watch the Olympics

August 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

The London Olympics have ended and the post match analyses have begun. A significant part of that is always how many people were able to view the world’s biggest sporting show and how that compared with previous games.

An important aspect is how are people viewing the games. Just as these have been billed as the first social media games (the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver notwithstanding), they are also perhaps the first major internet games.

The changing viewing patterns are being driven by the explosion in smart phone numbers, the emergence of tablets and the increasing uptake of internet television.

Due to my last post which was broadly about the Olympic games and social media, I was asked to appear on the new incarnation of Media 7, a media-issues programme that used to be hosted on TVNZ7 before the plug was pulled. The new programme, Media 3, now screens on TV3 and is available on demand. You can check out the first episode here.

In segment I appear in, I made the observation that there was an increasing proportion of viewers in the United Kingdom who were using tablets and mobile phones (and not geo-blocked as the rest of the world was to the BBC’s extensive coverage of the games) to access live streaming of Olympic events.

That combined smart phone/tablet statistic is 41 percent. Contrast that with television with 3 percent. Internet television may be growing quickly but it is still small, and the computer is still the default setting for online viewing with 56 percent. But what’s clear is that a significant number of people used the internet to access one of the BBC’s 24 live streams  to do their Olympic viewing by.

A friend of mine, Ajay Murthy, who is a digital producer, confirmed this. He anticipates that the components of the pie chart will change quickly in the short to medium term as the computer segment declines as the others take an increasing share – particularly internet television.

The interesting part is that more and more people want live events available on mobile platforms and they want increasing choice. To its surprise, the BBC found that each of the channels narrowcasting particular competitions live found significant niche audiences.

Ajay told me:

“There is a story about the ascent of connected TV here. The percentage is much higher than even I expected. So many viewers chose IP streams despite there being multiple dedicated channels on TV with the same coverage. The streams had geo-blocks in place so the majority of views will have been in the UK, except for the minority outside who have virtual proxy networks setup.”

According to this article by the Auckland-based technology writer, Juha Saarinen, the BBC delivered over 2.8 petabytes of video data to viewers on a single day during the London Olympics which is some kind of record. To put this into context that exceeds the entire online traffic for the coverage of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010, an event that comes a close second to the Olympics as the world’s most watched sporting event.

The International Olympic Committee also concluded that social media was driving interest and viewing among groups that previously had relatively little interest in the games. It says that NBC viewing statistics in the United States showed teenage viewers up 29 percent when compared with the Beijing Olympics four years ago.

When broken down, the IOC says its figures show that there was a 54 percent increase in the number of teenage girls watching the games – something it attributed to social media peer sharing.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, it appears that mainstream free to air and pay television still rule when it comes to live sports, mainly because there is little choice unless you organise a fast broadband connection and a VPN. Otherwise, it was no good trying to watch BBC, NBC or the Nine Network’s online coverage because all that content was blocked to New Zealand viewers.

Instead, we had to rely on six extra Olympic channels (if you are a Sky Sports subscribers) and one free to air channel – Prime – which dedicated most of its air time during the sixteen days to bring us 24 hour coverage – some of it live and some of it recorded – and which included a 90 minute highlights package every evening.

And the lack of video on demand catch-up coverage to see the breadth and depth of sporting competitions that didn’t involve New Zealand athletes was frustrating, unlike the extensive bank of videos that TVNZ provided during the Beijing games when it had the rights four years ago.

For Rio in four years time, New Zealand’s ultra-fast broadband network will be embedded and we can hope for a quantum leap in online Olympic coverage. It will be a good yardstick of where we are in the digital stakes in 2016.

I want to thank Russell Brown, Lacey Graham and Sarah Daniell for the opportunity to be on the first programme of Media 3. Oh, and did I already say where you could watch it?

[photo credit: Canadian Press / Rex Features]

Making Olympic-sized gaffes on social media

July 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Every four years, the Olympics arrive with its outsized baggage to set up camp in a host city, while disrupting the lives of residents, changing the character of entire city precincts, and sucking in attention like only a media sinkhole can.  I should know. I lived in Sydney for and leading up to the Olympic Games in 2000. London appears no different but, interestingly, some aspects ARE different.

For each of these titanic cast-of-thousands, audience-of-millions productions, the actors change but the plot usually remains same. There are the standard stories about athletes passed over for selection, and fears over transport, security, the weather, drug cheating and empty seats.

This year, there’s a new subject that is stalking the games and will continue to shadow it in this new era of personal mobile connectivity.  The first big clue dropped during the men’s cycling road race on day one.

After numerous complaints from television viewers about confused and confusing commentary during the race, it has emerged that the volume of tweets and texts generated by mobile phone using spectators absolutely bamboozled the race organisers’ GPS information that should have accurately logged the progress of individual riders. So much so, that the International Olympic Committee issued a plea to Olympic crowds to ration their tweets and SMS messages during road racing.

Good luck with that. London has been described as the first ‘real’ social media games because of the growth of social media usage in the four years since the Beijing Olympics. The opening ceremony even went out of its way to portray British youth culture as highly connected (did you notice the touch screen props?).

Twitter says there are now more tweets about the Olympics on a single day in a week than the total number of tweets sent during the whole Beijing Olympics.

Social media and the Olympics is a growing new thing – and lessons are being learned that will apply to future games. High profile athletes are endorsing products using social media (and fallen foul of International Olympic Committee guidelines) and many are simply using it to talk directly to their home support. The majority of athletes are of a generation that has integrated social networking into their daily lives.

But for games organisers and team managers, it has become a new scenario for a potential public relations nightmare.

Has anyone warned the athletes? In a word, yes. Every team will have issued guidelines on how to use social media safely and appropriately. The last thing the team managers and communications professionals want is to go into damage control over an errant tweet or Facebook post.

It’s worth a reminder that Facebook only became public in 2006, Twitter broke out in 2007 and China’s weibo platforms only hit the mainstream in 2009.  Today, Facebook has 900 million users (compared with 100 million in 2008), Twitter has 140 million users (six million in 2008) and Sina, China’s most popular micro-blogging network, now has 300 million users.

The International Olympic Committee has issued social media usage guidelines and central to them is this directive:

The IOC encourages participants and other accredited persons to post comments on social media platforms or websites and tweet during the Olympic Games, and it is entirely acceptable for a participant or any other accredited person to do a personal posting, blog or tweet. However, any such postings, blogs or tweets must be in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist – i.e. they must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons, or disclose any information which is confidential or private in relation to any other person or organisation.

You can find the full document here. If only Hope Solo, Michael Morganella and Voula Papachristou had actually read it.

Morganella is the most recent casualty. In a fit of sour grapes after his team lost to South Korea, he tweeted the Koreans were “mentally handicapped retards”. Don’t bother looking for his Twitter account – it’s no longer available and he’s no longer available for his team’s next game.

Solo, the goalkeeping star of the American women’s football team, used Twitter to pick a public fight with a former United States international player turned commentator, Brandi Chastain, over what she called unfair criticism of the team. It’s become a distraction for her teammates because she’s become the story, not the team.

Papachristou, a Greek triple jumper, found herself going home before the games began for tweeting “with so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of West Nile will eat homemade food”. In country where immigration has become a sensitive political issue and non-Greek minorities are under attack from far right groups, her ‘joke’ got her expelled.

Meanwhile, Australian swimmers, Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk, won’t be joining their teammates for the end of games festivities. They’ll be going home after their events – their penalty for posting photos on Facebook of themselves  posing with guns in an American gun shop.

Journalists are also not immune to social media blowback, as happened to Guy Adams, a journalist at The Independent, when he took a tilt at the official American Olympics network, NBC, over its coverage.

All of this simply heightens the need for athletes and anyone involved with the Olympics to take a 360 view of what they intend to post on social media. They must realise their posts can be seen by everyone and anyone. But as we know, common sense can only be learned and not necessarily taught.

To quote George Santayana, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Like four yearly controversies over empty seats, drug cheats, transport and security, social media is now also an embedded fixture at the Olympics. It is also a guaranteed prospect to win Olympic gold for online gaffes.

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