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24 September 2014
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The Beijing Games on the BBC
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The 2008 Beijing Olympics and Paralympics 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 world.


"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 field."


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 Rebekah Kipps.


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 home country.


"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?"







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