The 2008 Beijing Olympics
on the BBC
Broadcasting the Games
Beijing 2008 will be the first truly 24/7
Olympics. That's partly because the time
difference (seven hours ahead of the UK)
means that as well as working to cover all the
action from the long Olympic days,
production teams will be providing coverage
for the maximum convenience of viewers.
The Games will be available to audiences
around the clock, wherever they may be in
the UK, on a multitude of different platforms.
For Dave Gordon, BBC Sport's Head of
Major Events, and his team out in Beijing,
the biggest challenge isn't providing a 24-
hour service – they are used to the time
difference at major events playing havoc
with working patterns – or the fact they
are doubling the hours of TV coverage from
the last Olympics in Athens – it's being able
to meet audience expectations in a multimedia
"We have to put ourselves in the shoes of
our audience and give them what they
want," says Dave. "And that means very
much a 2008 look at what they want. The
way the new media has mushroomed in the
last four years means that we now have to
think about the website, broadband, video
clips, mobiles, iPlayer, as well as just TV and
radio. Applying that to the Olympics makes it
a much more complex challenge.
"They know what's possible technologically
and the challenge is to deliver it," he
continues. "It used to be that the choice we
could offer the audience was very limited –
more or less just either radio or two TV
channels – so we often had difficult editorial
decisions to make about what to do at any
one particular time.
"Now we've got the
luxury of being able to cover so many things
simultaneously in so many different ways that
the viewer, listener, consumer can almost
schedule their own Olympics; they've got so
much choice now and a lot of what we're
about is giving them that choice.
"At any one
time there could be up to six TV channels
going, different types of services on radio,
clips to look at on the website, action to
download onto iPlayer, clips possibly to
mobiles – it's very much a 24/7 Olympics.
"And just because there's no live sport in
evening peak time doesn't mean we won't be
offering viewers any – there'll be a catch-up
service of highlights and other sports in the
evening for those who are at work. Plus a lot
of people will want to watch events at work,
so they will be looking at watching some of
the sport that's streamed live via broadband
on their computers.
"Forty or 50 years ago it was a miracle to get
pictures from one side of the world to the
other; now you take that for granted. The
audience now expects a level of
sophistication that we need to satisfy."
Ironically, though he's providing virtually non-stop
Olympic action for the audience, Dave
himself will be too busy behind the scenes to
actually see any of the Games himself.
"I'll be out there for seven and a half weeks
for the Olympics and the Paralympics and I
doubt that I'll get to see any sport live," he
says wryly. "But I do get to immerse myself in
all aspects of the event and I think that's very
important. That's one of the things we've been
doing on the planning trips over the past two
and a half years – part of our job is to reflect
not just the Olympics but the place where the
Olympics is taking place, so giving people that
context of what Beijing and China is like is
important. Particularly as I suspect people
aren't as well-versed in modern-day China as
they might be about a lot of other countries,
so I think across the BBC's output there's a
unique opportunity to give the Olympic
Games some context.There'll be issues like
the environment, human rights etc. And what
is the youth culture in Beijing? Probably not
too dissimilar to what it is in most of Great
Britain, funnily enough, but it's not what
people expect it to be, I would hazard a guess.
"Every four years we have this fantastic
global celebration of the world's best
athletes and it's a terrific challenge to be able
to report that and cover it for our audiences.
We strive to make our programmes as
exciting as possible, and obviously the sport
itself will determine a lot of that, but our
approach to it is very important too and we
want to engage audiences and excite them
about what's going on, and give a reasonably
accurate picture of what's going on not only
on the playing field but around the playing
This approach has won the team successive
Baftas for their coverage of the Sydney and
Athens Games, inspiring them to seek out
and meet the new challenges for Beijing.
Other key members of the team are
Executive Producers Martin Webster and
Jonny Bramley and Production Executive
They are joined by Chief
Engineer Paul Mason who, like Dave, has
covered every Games since Moscow 1980.
Of all those, Dave cites his own favourite as
Sydney – "because of its unique atmosphere,
and because the GB team did so well," – but
he's hoping that there might be an even
better one to come...
"I can only begin to imagine what it's like
having an Olympics in your home country,"
he says, looking ahead to London 2012, "but
I just think it will be the most fantastic
experience – it'll be the pinnacle in anyone's
career working on an Olympics in your
"And I suspect come 2012 we'll be wanting
to show the audience absolutely everything – technology will have moved on more and
who's to say we won't have 20 channels with
all the sport that's on offer?"