Whether London 2012 is the first “social” Games has sparked much debate in news media and on the social web. While compelling arguments have been made for both sides, social media’s role in the Olympics isn’t the most exciting conversation about this year’s competition.
It’s about timing.
The London 2012 Olympics are undoubtedly the first real-time Games. It differs from any other Olympic event in how fans and viewers can experience all competitions while they’re taking place.
Though Friday’s Opening Ceremonies weren’t broadcast live in the United States, all 32 sporting events will be live streamed for the first time ever.
This year’s event is a culmination of media consumption trends that have bubbled up in recent years, including increased mobile viewership and social TV experiences. Here’s a look at how each real-time trend will play out in the 2012 Olympics.
Expanded TV Coverage
NBC is hosting 3,500 hours of live coverage using nine TV channels, including six networks, two specialty channels and a 3D channel. This is a huge increase from the 2,200 live hours provided from Beijing in 2008. It’s an even bigger leap from the mere 400 hours shown from Vancouver in 2010, where everything but curling and hockey events were held for prime time viewing.
“There are a certain number of fans who want the immediacy of watching it live,” Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, told PaidContent. “Since most of it will have to be authenticated or verified, it brings value to our cable and satellite partners.”
The Beijing Olympics were NBC’s first big effort to experiment with live streaming. At the time, there were concerns about the quality of technology and the potential to “cannibalize the audience,” said Chris McCloskey, a spokesman for NBC Sports. Now the network is more confident in the technology, he added. It’s also boosted its online watching repertoire, most notably with the record-breaking 2012 Super Bowl live stream.
“There’s more of a culture for [watching online] now too,” McCloskey said. “People have become more accustomed to consuming this way.”
Mobile Is Ubiquitous
Close to 107 million people today own smartphones as compared to about 19 million in 2008. Tablets were scarce during the Beijing nor Vancouver Olympics, and now they’re owned by nearly 55 million people worldwide.
While the NBC Live Extra app is integral to increasing real-time mobile traffic around the Olympics, a number of apps created by Olympics committees will provide updates and information. Other media organizations, including Sports Illustrated, Reuters and BBC have also released Olympics apps for viewers to access timely updates.
Social networking apps are hopping on the Games bandwagon as well. Location-based app Banjo released a new feature to aggregate tweets, updates and photos publicly shared on social networks by Olympic athletes and attendees. Sports social network PlayUp launched a new version of its app that allows Olympics fans worldwide to follow scores and connect with fellow users in real time.
Michael De Monte, CEO of live blogging platform ScribbleLive, attributes the success of Olympics live coverage to mobile users. “It’s a live event that a huge population of the world is interested in,” he said. “You have such a huge community of people who are participating, watching, and they’re empowered with smartphones.”
A Truly Social Olympics
Not only has NBC partnered with Twitter and Facebook to engage viewers around Olympics content, but sports fans are updating statuses and sharing media across the globe. Preliminary events earlier this week already inspired a variety of social updates from fans watching in London and at home.
De Monte said he’s seen a huge increase in the demand for real-time tools in the past four years, when the Beijing Olympics were under way and his company was just getting started. More than 57 websites worldwide will use the ScribbleLive platform to aggregate social updates and spark conversations among fans as events are happening.
The increase in real-time viewing of — and dialogue about — London 2012 events aligns this year’s Games more than ever with the Olympics mission: global togetherness in sport.
Are you watching Olympic events in real-time this year? How is it enhancing the Games experience? Tell us in the comments below.