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  • New Media and the Olympic Movement: Activating for Beijing


    New Media and the Olympic Movement: Activating for Beijing

    The Olympic Charter specifies a lofty goal for the movement: tirelessly promoting the Olympic values worldwide: the joy of effort, education, respect, even peace. The 2008 Games will bring the Olympics to the world's most populous country and August will be a test of how well the Movement can tap into the palpable excitement and spread it worldwide – especially to the young.

    But while new media are growing in importance, they remain a distant second to television, says the IOC's director of communications.

    New Media, Different Audience

    The International Triathlon Union will use Beijing to really "push out" their new media plans, says the federation's Director- Media & Television for Brian Mahony. Broadcasters will soon be able to search an online video database and make orders all online, while a Games-time mini-site is under construction.

    But the online components serve only a segment of the sport audience, Mahony adds.

    "Our online media tends to service the more avid fan that is looking to engage with the sport and is looking for more than just entertainment."

    For more traditional media, entertainment and appeal to a more general audience is the key, he says.

    Mobile Profits?

    A former IOC Communications Director suggests 2008 is a vital chance to test mobile content in a major way.
    The IOC may provide a direct-to-market solution for web and mobile Games coverage in territories where there is no new media broadcasting contract. (Getty Images)  

    "In Asia, it's starting to be quite important," says Franklin Servan-Schreiber.

    Mobile broadcast respects national boundaries and turns a profit for mobile operators, so it is appealing to the commercial partners, Servan-Schreiber points out.

    While it's not clear how much the IOC might benefit from mobile deals during Beijing, 2008 could be a glimpse of the future for mobile operators.

    If mobile broadcasters see they can make money, the following Games could be really big for mobile, Servan-Schreiber says.

    "I think mobile broadcasting is a no-brainer. I think it should be explored right away. They shouldn't miss the Beijing Olympics because mobile broadcasting is huge in Asia most of all."

    Beijing 2008 has a wireless website project underway, says Jin Hang, the BOCOG website manager from

    Vancouver is "continuing to evaluate the opportunities and to monitor technological progress and user trends over the months leading up to Games-time period. There are some interesting opportunities in the mobile space, and we're looking to see how activity there could fit in with the rest of our plans," says Vancouver 2010 director of online communications and editorial services Graeme Menzies.

    In London, "mobile communications will play a big part in our plans," says a LOCOG spokesman, though with more than four years to go, the committee is not ready to release details.

    Pre-Empting Pirates

    YouTube and other video sites are not a threat to broadcasters' rights because pirates flourish where there is scarcity, according to the IOC's thinking.

    And the IOC envisions such a breadth and volume of content that the Olympic Games will be much more pervasive than scarce.

    It remains the broadcaster's ultimate responsibility to attract viewers to their channels, and immediate posting of high-quality videos may be the best strategy. Several broadcasters are already exploring that path.
    " has historically been the number one destination for web content," says Perkins Miller, SVP Digital Media, NBC Sports & Olympics.  

    The largest contributor to IOC broadcasting revenues is NBC in the U.S. The company already posts high-quality videos of some of its most popular non-sport properties soon after broadcast is over. Television New Zealand does the same thing. France Televisions offered free coverage of all Olympic sports to ADSL users in 2004. Nearly nine million people used the BBC's digital interactive service during the same Games.

    The IOC is confident that the territory-by-territory model of broadcast rights is still valid for internet content. Geoblocking technology – which limits website access to visitors from specified geographic areas – is robust enough to keep traffic headed toward the appropriate territorial broadcasters, says Lumme.

    Besides that, national broadcasters are always popular at home because they tailor coverage to their country's most popular athletes. Though the IOC plays it down, the Games deeply resonate with a viewer's national identity and create national heroes.

    Keeping up with the Young

    Members of the Olympic Movement will likely not move much into user-generated content and Web 2.0 in the near future, though it is a communication strategy that has a place.

    It is fundamental for the Olympic Movement to make sure people, especially the young, are attracted to sport and Olympic values, says Lumme.

    "I think the social community aspect of that is a natural extension of a broader strategy to maintain and grow relevance to young people."

    And the social networking experience is an ideal platform to stretch the Olympic Games party beyond the 17 days of competition, he adds.

    Web 2.0 projects are under development at the IOC Lumme says, but it is a long term strategy. He hinted changes will be underway at to broaden from being an institutional and media site to a place that can better promote Olympic values.

    "But this will be an evolution – the thing for us is not to do something for the sake of doing it. We want to make sure that the initiatives we put in place are the right ones."

    For now, Web 2.0 is dominated by independent fans – or critics, in the case of anti-Beijing videos, petitions seeking anything from more Paralympic broadcast to changes to the Olympic sport roster.

    Lumme says the online criticisms are no worry, just free speech.

    "To my mind, it's no different than being able to debate something with somebody on the street."

    Servan-Schreiber, however, warns against communications complacency.

    "It is the responsibility of the IOC to be on the offensive communications-wise," he says.

    Television Dominates
Television will not be dislodged – for now. (Getty Images)  

For the Athens Games, there were no commercial agreements for mobile or internet broadcast. For Turin, there were 23. For Beijing Lumme hopes there will be deals in more than one hundred territories.

That still leaves many territories without internet or mobile distribution, something easily explained.

"There are certainly areas, for instance, a lot of countries in Sub Saharan Africa, where radio and the radio signal continues to be the main way that people listen and consume the Olympic Games," says Lumme.

Some 4.2 billion people watched the 2004 Games on television. Lumme expects TV ratings to grow from in 2008 in part because the Games are going on in a better time zone for Asian viewers.

"Old media still has an important part to play in terms of reaching people. I think for the time being, it is still much more important in overall terms than new media."

Written by Maggie Lee with reporting by Bryant Armstrong, Laura Grundy and Ed Hula III.

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