Tuesday, 2 October 2012

RTS notes #2 - Digital Olympic lessons for Rio

I was lucky enough to attend this year’s Royal Television Society Conference at the Barbican and am in the process of sharing my notes from the event. Here’s the second set, covering the digital Olympics and lessons for Rio. This was a panel discussion featuring Tessa Jowell (UK Government), Ralph Rivera (BBC Future Media), Cindy Rose (Virgin Media), Alex Balfour (Head of New Media, Olympic Games) & Mike Darcey (COO, BSkyB).

As an aside, why is it that so many Heads of Digital in this country are from the USA? We have fabulous digital skills in the UK and I question the need to go abroad. Must be the accent. Anyway...

Only 13% of UK citizens didn’t watch any Olympic coverage. 97% of viewing was live and the median viewer watched 2 hours per day. Quality was the most common reason given for watching on TV versus other mediums – why watch live online when live on broadcast is so much nicer.

The BBC’s coverage was the most comprehensive ever. All sports were covered and available on broadcast (mainly through Sky) and online through the iPlayer. Every sport had at least 100,000 views across all the platforms. Even so, there was a clear long tail. Most people watched on BBC 1 or 2.

Ralph Rivera felt it necessary to talk about “post-PC” when talking about digital coverage. As much as 50% of digital viewing was on tablet or smartphone at the peak and smartphone consumption never dropped below 30% of the total. Ralph’s contention was that this marked a victory for the ecosystem.

Virgin Media had little to say, besides desperately push Tivo and its search and discovery capabilities, both of which seemed a little lame given that most of consumption was live on main channels. They said that they had 60% of the base on PVR.

Sky’s main comment was the bandwidth of their platform, which enabled them to show 48 streams of Olympics content throughout the day. 3D was under-supported by the BBC, but Sky managed 100 hours thanks to Eurosport’s feed. 300,000 households watched at least in something in 3D, which is roughly the same number of households subscribing to Sky 3D.

[My view is that the above was a triumph for digital media – none of the HD broadcast would have been possible in the analogue world. The fact that this was the first truly HD Games has not been commented on. HD was a big part of the immersion I felt in the events. Even so...]

...we got onto the subject of digital media. 35% of week day and 50% of weekend Olympic website hits came through mobile. This was the area that the organisers admitted to under-prioritising during the run up to the games as they hadn’t anticipated the impact it was having [it would be nice if they’d also designed a ticketing system that was fit for purpose, but never mind].

Fundamentally, this was the first Games where broadband + social + mobile were all significant market factors. The contention was that it takes 7 years for an innovation to be widely adopted so it’s hard to see such a big leap in consumption for Rio. Perhaps some things that were expected to be big, such as local + social will be so. The organisers thought it would be big in London and had link ups with Facebook Places and Foursquare. In fact there were only 600,000 check-ins and they were predominantly from Hyde Park.

4K might be a factor next time. Talk of 8K was sensibly rebutted. [I don’t see that being a consumer TV product in 4 years time].

The panel’s conclusion was that a new baseline had been set for covering major sporting events. In the UK this means that the Commonwealth Games will require the same sort of broadcaster commitment. Rio will have to do something special behind the scenes to match the depth and quality of what the UK achieved. [In my view our broadcasters demonstrated once again why the UK has the best creative and production talent in the world]

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