The 1948 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XIV Olympiad, was a rather special edition for a few reasons. The global sporting event was being staged after a 12 year hiatus because of World War II and more importantly, the games were broadcast to home television viewers by the BBC (who had paid 1000 pounds for the broadcast rights) for the first time ever.
Ironically it was the War that helped refine the technology behind television broadcasting– whilst 85,000 spectators witnessed the opening ceremony live at the Wembley Stadium, a few million viewers had the opportunity to enjoy the same scenes on their couch through their television sets. It was also the first time that pictographs were used to depict each of the 20 sporting disciplines.
The Games have once again returned to city of London after 64 years. Once again London has acted as a catalyst for technological innovations that influence the way people around the world witness, consume and enjoy this global sporting event.
1948 saw records being broken by both the old & the young – the Dutch sprinter Fanny Blankers-Koen(“The Flying Housewife”), the 30 year old mother of three, won four gold medals in athletics & American Bob Mathias became the youngest male ever to win a gold medal at the tender age of 17. In 2012, apart from Usain Bolt gunning to break the 100m world record yet again, we might have multiple new records broken by social media in the domain of sports. Beijing gave the world its first Olympics completely filmed & broadcasted in high definition; London has already ensured that the footages from its events are streamed, shared, liked & commented upon across multiple social and digital media platforms– it has been a truly ‘social’ and ‘digital’ global sporting event.
In a special multi-part Olympics series, we at Gamechanger tracked what we believe were some of the potential Olympic-consuming gamechangers, from a “social” and “digital” media perspective!
Evolution of Social Media since the Beijing Games
At the start of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there were about 1.5 billion Internet users globally and by this summer’s games, that number will have swelled to about 2.3 billion, making up about a 3rd of the world’s population. Facebook had just crossed the 100 million users barrier back then. Today, Facebook is a public listed entity that is about to touch the 100 billion mark by August this year.Twitter grew more than 80 times in the same period from just 6 million users to a staggering half a billion users today, who send out about 400 million tweets every day – in fact the recently concluded Euro 2012 finals set a new sports record on Twitter with a total of 16.5 million tweets being sent out during the game, peaking at 15,385 tweets/second around the time of the 4th Spanish goal.
Last, but not the least, the other major online channel, Youtube too has grown considerably since the time Michael Phelps broke the record for most gold medals won at one Games– it receives 800 million unique visitors per month, who watch about 3 billion hours of video every month and upload 72 hours of video content per minute, without reckoning about 700 YouTube videos being shared on Twitter each minute. And I must mention that during the last Olympics, the iPads didn’t exist, we did not have the new age social media platforms such as Foursquare, Pinterest or Google+ and neither were Social TV applications such as Shazam, ConnectTV or BlueFin prevalent.
So, what did London 2012 offer from a “social” perspective?
Olympic Athletes Hub
In April 2012, the International Olympics Committee (IOC), which itself is quite a “social” animal, what with a Twitter following of more than 760,000 fans and close to 3 million Facebook fans, launched the Olympic Athletes Hub, the official social media property for the Games. This integrated portal is a wonderful initiative to collate and consolidate information and content about all possible sporting disciplines, teams and players across different social channels.
London 2012 on Facebook
One of the major milestones on this digitized Olympics journey was that in June 2012, Facebook itself launched an official London 2012 fan page, which boasts over half a million fans in just over a month and has an impressive engagement rate (number of people liking, sharing or commenting on a piece of content over the total number of fans) of more than 20% and shares some wonderful images, videos and trivia to generate a lot of buzz amongst fans in the two months leading up to the event.
The page is available in 22 languages and brings together the profile pages of hundreds of athletes, national teams and official organizing bodies to make them potentially accessible to close to 900 million users globally.
Emergence of “Social TV”
Television networks around the world are cashing in on the prevalence and take up of what is known as Social TV. Official broadcasters NBC recently announced that “3,500 hours of live streamed Olympics content will be available at NBCOlympics.com and via new mobile apps”. The streaming will be largely powered by YouTube but the clips themselves will only be made available to the subscribers of NBC, CNBC and MSNBC networks.
NBC would make this web experience social through integration with platforms such as Twitter and Google Plus, on which they recently hosted a “hangout” with a Megan Rapinoe, a qualified US Women’s Soccer Midfielder. Popular social TV application, Shazam has recently landed a major partnership with the NBC network. Viewers who tag the broadcast from their Shazam app will be able to see additional information on the athletes, engage in polls, view the competition schedule, check the latest results, keep tabs on the medal count and share on social media. Likewise in Australia, the Nine network is about to launch its iPad app – Jump-In, during the Olympics to provide interactive experience to all its sports viewers.
User-Generated Content Platforms
While the big television networks are cashing in and controlling the networks and the content flowing through it, there are quite a few crowd-sourced, user-generated content platforms attempting to mobilize mass participation and provide personalized experiences. BT Storytellers has brought in about 100 people from across the UK to narrate their personal perspective of the Games through art, music, poetry, blogs and tweets. Likewise BT Ambassadors, a selection of sporting personalities from household names to Olympics hopefuls, has also contributed, providing the competitors side of the story. Sportpost.com, Europe’s first “sport social media site”, has mixed professionally-produced branded channels with user-generated content including forums, videos and blogs to provide a more personalized consumer experience.
Amongst all these technological marvels working their wonders on the Games what is most encouraging, is that for the first time, the IOC has released social media guidelines to officially encourage all athletes “to take part in social media and to post, blog and tweet their experiences” as long as their efforts are not for commercial purposes. Athletes are urged to share their experiences as personal diary entries although they are forbidden to share any result related information or any video content. What is encouraging is that unlike many sporting events that I have been to, viewers at the event are encouraged to shoot and record these memorable Games as long as they are not distributed for commercial purposes. Alex Hout, the IOC’s head of social media summed it up well when he said “We encourage the use of social media. We encourage athletes to engage and to connect. There are some rules to follow, there’s no question about it. But we don’t police the fans, we don’t police the athletes. We don’t do that. What we do is we engage.”
The Modern Olympics have come a long way over the last 116 years and each edition embodies and manifests certain progress mankind has made since the previous Games four years ago. The London 2012 Olympics will definitely go down as the most “digitized, accessible & social” games of modern times. A tweet recently articulated it well in less than 140 characters that the “The London Games will be the first Olympics told in 140 characters or less”. The London Games has definitely been the most tweeted, liked and tagged in history, with fans offered a never before seen insider’s view of what many are calling the social media Olympics, or the “socialympics.”
Hash tags, (at) signs and “like” symbols have been as prevalent as national flags, Olympic pins and medal ceremonies. Some athletes may have spent more time on Twitter and Facebook than on the playing field!