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Looking ahead to London 2012, the mobile Olympics

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Jason DaPonte | 18:32 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

If I mention "the Olympics" to you - you'd probably think about names like Rebecca Adlington, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps and their stellar performances last summer in Beijing. What you probably wouldn't be thinking is very much about the 2012 Games - unless you live somewhere near the Olympic park that's being built in East London.

That doesn't mean we aren't. The summer of 2012 is going to be HUGE for the BBC with London hosting the Olympics, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and other major sporting events being broadcast. We're excited about it and planning for it already.

The mobile industry changes quickly, though. Sure, it might not change as quickly as Usain Bolt can sprint, but planning 3 years out in this space isn't easy. There are big questions and variables to take into acount about consumers, devices and connectivity.

Fortunately, the BBC's cracking R&D team have been able to lend us a hand to help us come to grips with some of this thinking about the future.

I've been working with them for the past few months on a scenario planning joint project with the help of external consultants and a number of industry experts who contributed their expertise.

The work really began in 2004, with an in-depth scenario planning exercise led by BBC R&D. The resulting Digital Britain 2014 (DB2014) publication described how broadband would affect the UK over the course of 10 years. In the new research, we build upon the DB2014 stories and research to explore how the mobile landscape may look during the 2012 Olympic Games.

The scenarios are two diverging (but plausible) stories based on how politics, society, the economy and technology might unfold. They should be used as tools for planning products and services in the future by illustrating what the world could be like - they are not official strategy.

The stories are accompanied by tools that can also be helpful for testing product plans and strategies. For this project we've created:

- Living Histories: useful as background knowledge and useful as stimulus for workshops so your participants can begin to think about future possibilities
- Character Profiles: exploring the differences in the characters lives when placed in each scenario. They are in written form and recorded as video interviews
- Event Timelines: useful brainstorms to remind participants of the chronology of events from 2005-2012
- Summary: the thematic comparison is also useful in brainstorms to help keep clear the lines of distinctions between the stories

I've used scenarios in the past to facilitate creative planning and have found them useful both as stimulus for creative thinking but also for setting the landscape for brainstorms and other planning sessions to ensure they have productive outcomes. Brainstorms are often seen as a wasteful experience in organisations but I find that working with strong stimulus and inputs like these scenarios can be very helpful in making sure you get good, useful ideas out of sessions.

We will be using the tools above in our own planning and are sharing them with industry partners - I'll be discussing them with the Mayor's advisors on the Olympics next week. We hope that they can provide a shared starting point for developing partnerships that will enable us to deliver an amazing experience to our audiences in the summer of 2012.

The DB2014 scenarios examined what the UK might be like in 2014 based on a set of economic, political, social and technological drivers. Through a series of workshops, a set of key drivers were identified and refined:

1. Family ties - what social relationships are important in people's personal lives?

2. Mobility - the capacity for people to move between locations at home and overseas

3. Security - how safe the population perceives itself to be and the ensuing public policy

4. Digital copyright - to what extent will this be regulated by industry and government?

5. Technology - when will convergence/interoperability be fully achieved

Exploration of how the drivers would influence society over ten years led to the development of two distinct pathways that became the fictional scenarios Little Britain and Alien Nation.

The original scenarios have, in some respects, proved prescient and in one or two cases ominously prodigious. In this publication, we update the scenarios with a focus on mobile and the 2012 Olympics. Before delving into the updated scenarios, we considered to what extent we have experienced either a Little Britain or Alien Nation world since 2004.

Up until 2008, the UK seemed to parallel an Alien Nation model but since the economic downturn it looks remarkably similar to Little Britain. The new research brings us up to date, reflecting on the 2004 drivers and the last five years (through the lens of the scenarios Little Britain and Alien Nation), and sets the stage for helping us to imagine how the next three years will unfold in these fictional worlds.

So what are the story worlds set out in Little Britain and Alien Nation?


Little Britain is a story of the "People's Olympics", where the economy stays weak and local-issue politics gain strength and communities pull together. Technology (especially mobile) becomes increasingly important as a cost-effective means for people to come together and support one another. The Olympics emerge as a symbol of hope and community pride as sporting clubs and councils plan celebrations around sport and fitness. Digital communities, too, contribute to the festive atmosphere around the Games as they develop exciting, interactive mash-ups of professional and social media.


Alien Nation is a story of the "Corporate Olympics", of economic recovery and revolutionary technology triumphing over security fears. The economy bounces back quickly. Mobile networks begin to function as social clubs as they offer advanced interactive services via 'walled tunnels' that are available exclusively to their subscribers - 'members' enjoy a seamless user experience across connectivity, device and content - things 'just work'. The new media service giants invest heavily in the Games to showcase their recent breakthroughs in mobile content and services, contributing to a national sense of excitement and expectation.

Here's a chart that compares what the world is like in each of the two worlds:

I'd love to know your thoughts on these. Does one feel more realistic than the other? Does one feel better or worse to you? Which of these worlds would you like to experience the Olympics in?

And, since we're still in early planning phases, any thoughts about what the BBC should or could be doing with the 2012 Games would be most welcome. Please let me know what you think.

Jason DaPonte is Managing Editor, BBC Mobile.



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