Olympic observations

Motor sport may be the main focus of this writer’s attention, but for two weeks every four years, an event comes around which dominates television viewing both here in the UK and abroad: the Olympic Games.

There are a few aspects that I wanted to touch on in this post which still has some relevance to motor sport and Formula 1.

Graphics simple, but effective
The Rio 2016 graphics set has not changed very much from those on display at both the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 games, meaning it has now been used for at least eight years. The 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin used a modified version of the previous graphics set. What is interesting to me is the difference between Formula 1’s graphics set and the Olympic set. I dare say that the Olympic graphics set is stuck in the mid-2000s, but it has not changed in recent years.

F1’s graphics display multiple pieces of information on-screen at the same time, whereas the Olympics goes for a ‘less is more’ approach. I guess it is also a sense of familiarity for the latter given that the Olympics is firmly aimed at bringing in a casual audience. Both serve different purposes and that should be recognised. It would be interesting though seeing Olympic graphics stuck over the top of a F1 race. I suspect fans would find them too intrusive.

One similarity between the F1 and Olympic Games is the slow-motion shots. The first week has seen a lot of superb slow-motion shots from Joe Clarke’s victory in the canoe slalom to the diving events, there have been a number of slow-motion shots which no doubt will be repeated in the closing video packages next weekend. We also saw the bike cam in the cycling team pursuit, although the quality of the camera was not great thanks to the amount of rattling.

Is 455 BBC staff ‘too many’?
Back in April, the BBC confirmed that they would be sending 455 staff to the Olympics in Rio. Some of those 455 are freelancers, whilst the amount BBC have sent to Rio pales in comparison to the over 2,000 strong personnel that NBC have sent to Rio. Despite this, the BBC’s coverage (and number of 455) has attracted criticism from the likes of the Daily Star, Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

The comments that I have seen are your usual “too many presenters” or why are there so many production staff. Neither of which fully take into account the scale of the event. BBC One has been live on air from 13:00 to 04:00 every day, around 15 hours. BBC Four has been on air for the same length. Combine that with the running of the Red Button channels. On top of that, there is both online and BBC Radio 5 Live to consider.

Firstly, regarding the on-air staff, including presenters. Presenters do not present on-air and go home. Presenters also research, rehearse, record. Research so that they know what they’re talking about, rehearse so that the end product is as slick as possible and then record any VT’s that need to be done. Now consider doing that over 15 consecutive days. You cannot have one presenter, you need multiple presenters to cover each event and/or channel.

The same applies for commentators. Two commentators per event, 15 to 20 events and the numbers quickly add up. The numbers and facts that commentators have recited, chances are that a researcher has done that for them or (more likely), they have prepared and watched back historical tapes of that event. To bring it back to Formula 1: take David Croft or Ben Edwards. Throughout the Winter they will no doubt have re-watched the 2015 season to ensure that they are ready and prepared for every race for the following season.

Aside from on-air, there are those people off-air that keep the show running: resource managers so that everyone knows what they are doing, camera operators, sound supervisors, production co-ordinators, VT editors, interpreters and a whole host of other people who play a small but significant part in the coverage (I’ve picked a few out here, there are hundreds more). Without the talented men and women behind the camera, the show does not go on. Just because we don’t see them, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Without VT editors, you can’t tell a story to the wider audience. Without interpreters, you don’t know what the winning athlete from a foreign country has said. Of course, this is not just Olympics related: you need this in any form of sport, including motor sport. At the end of the day, if you want to expand your remit, you have to expand your resources. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the BBC’s coverage from Rio, and I don’t think I would want it any other way. The days of presenting from the ‘London studio’ have long passed.

Olympics reaps rewards of free-to-air coverage
The beauty of the Olympics is its accessibility on television. Live, wall-to-wall television coverage on BBC One and BBC Four means that the Olympics can reach the largest number of viewers possible. Saturday’s coverage peaked with 9.4 million viewers on television, with 17.2 million global browsers accessing the BBC Sport website. These are brilliant figures all around, and shows how events benefit from being on free-to-air television.

Would the Olympics do anywhere near as well hidden behind a pay-wall? I doubt it. The Sydney Morning Herald website has a fantastic read looking at the extremely restrictive Olympic rights that extend far beyond television into the sponsorship world. I do not want to regurgitate the article, as there are a lot of fascinating points that I could note.

The key bit comes from Simon Morris, who is Fairfax Media’s (SMH’s owner) national video news editor. He says that the article “is not a complaint. We sign up to these rules as a part of a contract that allows us to send journalists. We could decide not to not do that and just rely instead on our statutory fair dealing rights under the Copyright Act, but we believe we have the best sports writers in the country and not sending them in return for being able to run more video would be a poor deal for you, our audience.”

The Olympics is a juggernaut if you’re part of the event. If you are not part of the event, then you are a complete outsider for that short time frame every four years.


9 thoughts on “Olympic observations

  1. BBC News’ Sport Journalists will be included in that 455 number as well I believe

    Now BBC News has 2 different ways of covering the Olympics as well – BBC News Channel has video highlight reports whereas BBC World News just shows stills and a lot less coverage

  2. I haven’t been a fan of the BBC for some years now because of they way that they blatantly waste money. However, I would have thought that 455 personnel is not unreasonable considering the amount of coverage. It’s not just about numbers though, it’s also the quality of personnel. Some of the commentary has left something to be desired and the BBC website is very poor.

    I’ve found the Rio on screen graphics to be okay, they do the job. F1’s graphics vary between good and near pointless, as if FOM just think they need to show something new/anything.

    It would be interesting to compare the viewing figures for the World Track Cycling Championships, shown on the Beeb a few months back, with the viewing figures for some of the Olympic Track Cycling viewing figures, it would clearly show the draw of the event as opposed to the draw of the sport itself.

  3. It is a shame that most of the Olympics (either from Winter 2018 or 2022) are going to the Discovery Channel, which means that the BBC will be limited to the amount they can show.

  4. i dont mind watching the olympics but there is no way i would pay to watch it.

    My work mates where all talking about it today and we can all talk about because we all watched it. If its gone from free to air half of us would not have the ability to watch it the other half they would not have not watched it as they would not have turned the discovery channel on

  5. One thing worth noting for me was the gymnastics men’s rotational final where the commentary on bbc1 was different to the red button (because they wanted to show the British team after each round (after the host broadcaster made it available)) but the other thing I’ve noticed is the technical quality of the Olympic coverage…. Picture quality wise on sky Q it’s excellent but the sound quality has been a bit weird at times.. A little muffled at times (the background sound not the BBC commentary) not sure why or how it could get worse since London or especially Beijing but it was just an observation I made

  6. How can the whole of the olympics not be on free-to-air from beyond 2022? In the UK olympics is within group A on the Ofcom sports broadcasting list, meaning “full live coverage must be made available” not just the minimum 200 hours stated by the IOC?

    Click to access listed_events.pdf

  7. I do agree with the comments about the BBC wasting money. This applies especially to the digital archive project, and the move to Salford. Insiders also talk about the amount of money being wasted on being PC, and diversity issues. Absolutely nothing wrong with diversity. However, they say that the diversity issue is falsified, and the evidence is visible on screen, because they claim that it seems to be only one ethnicity that is targeted. Trouble brewing there! Disabled folks are also missing out.

    I am not sure that the move to Discovery Networks including Eurosport is such disaster. If it was SKY, then it would be a different matter. The current Eurosport business model is that of a large subscriber base with affordable pricing. The opposite of SKY, which seems to charge as much as it can get, and really scams its F1 subscribers in comparison to those who watch football. Discovery are reputed to be heavily investing in an expanded streaming capability, both HD and UHD. By the time of the Tokyo Olympics, the majority of homes are expected to own SMART televisions, or at the least, have a smart box – Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV or similar. The potential is there, to have a dedicated stream for a viewers’ favourite sport/s. Not everybody wants to watch the drug cheats in the athletics stadium. Having slated the BBC, I’ll finish with mountains of praise for their 2015 investigation into ‘micro-dosing’



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