Broadcasting the Olympics

Category: Sport
Every session of every sport, every day. That’s the BBC’s ambition to offer its audience for London 2012 in the first fully ‘Digital Olympics’.

Building on the multi-platform success of the Beijing coverage, this time there will be even more available – offering viewers almost virtually unlimited choice on all platforms.

“It’s serving audiences in a way we’ve never been able to do before,” explains Dave Gordon, BBC Sport’s Head of Major Events and the Corporation’s “Mr Olympics” – this being the 10th summer Games he will have worked on. “From even more extensive coverage on TV, radio and online to mobile phones and tablets, there’ll be unlimited content available.

“The technology is now in place to offer the ultimate choice for our viewers and there will be times when we’ll have up to 24 screens of sport,” he continues. “We’re

delivering 2,500 hours of unique sport which we’re streaming on the web and through other platforms, and that’s not to mention our BBC One and BBC Three output, our red button output, our HD output – and that’s just on TV! Then we have the three radio stations, and our web offering isn’t just the sport we’re streaming: there’ll be features, stats and profiles to support what we’re doing, audio and video offering, sports news coverage; we’re more joined up than we’ve ever been. Multi-platform means we can share this content and get the maximum value out of it. It’s very exciting.”

Dave admits that he personally has been excited by this Games ever since the announcement of the award to London back in 2005.

“I was out in Singapore and the euphoria of it was just terrific. When I got home I said to my wife it was the best day of my life – and then had to furiously backtrack when she reminded me of our wedding day and the birth of our two children! But from my personal point of view I knew it would be my last Olympics for the BBC so what a way to finish.

“I get excited too by seeing the Olympic Park grow. Us journalists are terribly bad at telling good news stories but the way they have built the park and restored the whole area around Stratford is a huge British success story that goes beyond sport, so I take a pride in that.”

And the BBC can contribute to that success, he says. “I want this to be a real landmark in British broadcasting history. I’m sure it will be and I think we can play our part in making it so. The scale of what we’re doing is enormous, and hugely exciting, not just in sport but across all genres. The breadth of the offer for our audience is just fabulous. We’re trying to pull something off that we’ve never done before – I wouldn’t say it’s terrifying but at times we’re daunted by ambition, and you do feel the added responsibility and the ownership of it, being in London.”

Part of the responsibility is for the BBC to play its part in the sporting legacy of the Games.

“UK Sport and the Government, for example, are looking to us because we are effectively bringing the Games to people and they understand that a lot of people get inspired by watching stars compete in major events, winning medals – that spurs them to take up the sport. We’re going to do a lot of complementary feature stuff on the web, so you’ll be able to find out the nuances of the rules, how the competition works, how to take up the sport if you want to – we’ll provide those links. We’ve worked closely with the organising committee to play our part in developing the sporting legacy.”

And for the first time there’s not a sport at the Games that will be underserved as – though it’s not feasible to bring all the action from preliminaries in every case – today’s technology enables so much more to be available.

“People will be able to watch the conclusion of the fencing competitions, finals of all the shooting, the wrestling – some of the sports that have not received as much coverage previously as they’re not so embedded in the British public psyche,” explains Dave. “Here’s the perfect opportunity for aficionados of a sport to celebrate the competition at the Olympics and for other people to get their first experiences of some of these sports.”

Though there’ll be such a wealth of action available, it’s important that not too many big events clash. “One of my nightmare scenarios would be to have two British gold medals taking place at the same time,” Dave says. And it’s also important to present the best of all that great sport conveniently for the audience. “No matter how much you stream you’ve got to tell all the stories of the Olympics somewhere in an easily digestible fashion,” says Dave. “One of my labours of love is to shape it into something that’s going to make a great broadcast experience.”

He’s hoping that his own personal Games legacy will be to provide that once again before he bows out – though not without a wistful look ahead to 2016. “I’d love to be in Rio – my interest in the Olympics doesn’t end when I leave the BBC, it’s a lifelong passion. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve been to places I could never have dreamed of and met so many people.”

His own favourite Games include Sydney and a favourite moment was watching Linford Christie win gold in Barcelona – although somewhat bittersweet as he was away for his daughter’s ninth birthday. And he admits that if Team GB does well it helps no end in creating a great experience for the viewers.

“In Beijing we had a succession of medallists into our studio, which was fantastic,” he recalls. “That’s what we’re always trying to do with our coverage – take our audiences to the heart of the Games, whether it’s 5 live tapping into the national mood or taking them to the heart of the action on TV so they can sit in their living rooms and get the best Olympic experience possible. We want to give them the ultimate audience experience of the games.

“This is the sort of event the BBC was made for really and I want people to say at the end of a Games, ‘didn’t the BBC do us proud’ – and anything short of that is failure as far as I’m concerned.”