"Digital is one of the most crucial things for a modern brand manager to get right, so the pressure is on for (social media/digital strategist) Siobhan to explain her strategy. Twitter, Facebook, Mashable and even MySpace all have their part to play in creating the digital legacy for the Games."
BBC Two's Twenty Twelve comedy series (already a must-see) nails the overzealously social nature of the London 2012 Summer Olympics in the video above. All kidding aside, teams of social media strategists at the BBC and indeed around the world have been working almost as vigorously as the athletes, organizers and sponsors on how to make this the most interactive Olympic Games yet.
Since the previous Olympics in Beijing, tech advancements including Super Hi-Vision, live 3D TV and live broadcasting via smartphones have moved center-stage. Now the advent of social apps, social TV and social everything will be threaded through this Olympics, and — brace yourselves — all Olympics to come.
"Every four years it's promised that this will be the Olympics of something – of video on demand, or of HD – but it's never changed dramatically, with most people watching the highlights each evening on TV," said Anthony Rose, ex-Future Media Controller at the BBC and responsible for the BBC iPlayer, to Tech Radar. "This time London 2012 has the potential to be the first time that social media has played a decisive role."
The BBC will screen every event — working 24 live HD streams for 2,500 hours of coverage — via the BBC Sport website on PC, laptop, smart TVs, tablets and smartphones. "There were no tablets at the last Olympics – it's a completely new market," Carl Hibbert, a tech analyst at Futuresource Consulting, added.
Olympic athletes can avail themselves, as many already are, of Twitter and Facebook — but there are also emerging platforms such as Zeebox, a UK-based web platform and app for iOS and Android that turns live TV into a two-way, social viewing experience as user’s indicate which package they’re using, (e.g., Sky+HD, Virgin Media's XL bundle, or Freeview HD), and the app clicks on that program and delivers the goods. (Zeebox is jumping across the pond to the US in the coming weeks.)
Facebook has launched its own London 2012 portal with dedicated pages for athletes and sports and a timeline history of the competition since the 1800s. Twitter has also released a cheatsheet for athletes on how they might leverage the site to build their personal brands and connect with fans, and each other, during the Games.
The IOC, which has been encouraging the public to consider London 2012 the Social Olympics, has posted its own guidelines about what's acceptable in terms of social media usage by athletes, sponsors and fans, including a ban on the posting of any video from within an Olympic venue, and attempts at ‘ambush’ marketing.
LOCOG's Alex Balfour told the BBC there is a "perfect storm" of technology to allow a "really rich experience" wherever fans are. . "We want make sure our Games is available to that new audience of digital consumers.” Still, it will be difficult for the public beyond the UK to access local social efforts such as the BBC’s Olympics Facebook app, which only works on UK IP addresses.
"Being on Facebook is important as some online audiences don’t come to bbc.co.uk," says Phil Fearnley, GM, BBC News & Knowledge, to Fast Company. "We built a back-end data services platform that allows us to build real-time sports pages on the fly. In addition to the live streams, there will be an individual page for each of the 26 sports and 32 venues as well as every athlete and country."
That's why other nation's broadcasters and media outlets are stepping up with their own socially-infused coverage of the Summer Games. In America, for instance, NBC is prepping for record-breaking coverage and social interaction, buoyed by Twitter reports of more tweets during one day of Olympic trials than the entire 2008 summer games. NBC, in fact, will have a larger crew covering the London 2012 games than the BBC is assigning.
The Comcast-owned broadcaster has launched two mobile apps, which are available for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and some Android devices. Its NBC Olympics Live Extra app promises live streaming coverage of every competition in every sport, complemented by the NBC Olympics app with stats, results, athlete profiles, highlight packages and social features. One caveat: they only work in the United States for subscribers of cable, satellite or telco services who pay for a video tier including both CNBC and MSNBC. Twitter and Facebook will be integrated via features like the “Facebook Talk Meter.”
“NBC’s viewers will get to see what Olympic athletes and others connected with the Games are talking about on Facebook, adding a new element to NBC Olympics’ coverage,” commented Facebook Strategic Partner Manager Andy Mitchell. “By sharing what they choose to watch on NBCOlympics.com, people will identify the events and highlights that are important to them and discover other Olympic moments through their friends.”
And for visitors to London, with one million more people than usual expected in the city for the Games, Transport for London (TfL) is adding to its permanent Twitter account @TfLOfficial with additional feeds to ease the expected commuting crunch: @TfLTrafficNews, @TfLTraveAlerts and @GAOTG.
A dedicated travel planner website, GetAheadoftheGames.com, has already been used by 1.5 million people, while locals are being encouraged to sign up for email alerts while ticket holders are advised to use the Spectator Journey Planner.
Bringing Twitter to life, Olympic gold medalist Daley Thompson will unveil a lightshow at the EDF Energy London Eye on Friday, July 19, driven by the nation's tweets on the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. Relevant tweets will be converted into a lightshow every night at 9pm celebrating the triumphs and defeats of the day, as displays of gold, silver or bronze lighting tout the medals Team GB brought home. Using sentiment analysis of tweets, it's meant to show the mood of the nation — hence the project's name, Energy of the Nation.
"The way I like to think about the IOC and our relationship with social media,” Mark Adams, IOC member told the BBC, “is that the Olympics is one of the oldest social networks that has ever been. Everyone has an experience and shares that experience with their friends and their family - everyone has an emotional attachment to the Games. We're just digitising that experience."
It’s a digital legacy that will go down in the history books and inform all future Games, as media bests its own previous records.
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