London 2012 and Social Media

On the one hand, the Olympics are the most wonderful celebration of humanity, of striving to be the best, faster, higher, stronger as the motto says. On the other hand, I find them – the organisation behind the games – to be one of the most cynical and grasping of organisations, historically prone to corruption, pushing their weight around to control the image, the trademarks, the media rights, anything that generates money.

This evening, I went along to the IET for a Pinkerton Lecture, on using social media to inspire change. Delivered by Alex Balfour, who is the Head of New Media for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, it was a brilliant run through of the social media landscape (targeted at the majority of the audience who wouldn’t necessarily play in the space) and an introduction to what LOCOG is doing when it comes to social media.

As Alex ran through some of the innovations that his team has been repsonsible for, such as putting education packs online instead of using mailouts, of putting information for training camp venues up on the web, I wanted to challenge him. Where was the social media, where was the innovation? What he was talking about wasn’t ‘new’, but only new in the old definition of media. An understanding of the mindset of the overall organisation was given when, in answer to one of my questions at the end of the session, let it be known that the media broadcast rights for the 2016 Games, which included digital broadcast, will be signed up in 2009, 7 years before the games, even before the host city is confirmed. Whilst I could understand agreeing traditional TV rights, how can you even understand what could be done online that far ahead? The reasoning given was financial, that TV rights in effect add a huge amount to the running of the games. But why assign them before you know how much it’s going to cost, before you know which city is running it and how much they need. Given the current negotiations with the London budget and how they are going to afford the games, surely it would be better to sign things up closer to the time, when you know costs AND now what you can sell given a changing rights landscape.

Alex also mentioned that the 2010 Winter games are having to work out how they will cope with the media applications from non-traditional outlets, meaning bloggers and online newsites. I asked about this for 2012, but the answer was not clear about the access that would be granted for online reporters.

Alex covered some of the initiatives they have been running with, for example one around the handover parties that took place in August, where they asked people to contribute videos and images of celebration to add to a video they would show at the parties. Another example would be a call for images and content that could be used as part of the venues, either a collection of the content built up over the lead into the games, or ‘live’ stuff created during the games. They are working in a difficult environment, hampered by what sound like unbelievably stupid rules, such as a ban on linking to any site that is not a sponsor, but I’d like to see how they are going to approach some of the challenges

  • One of the basic tenets of social media is sharing. How are they going to let people share the Games, through images, video, remixes, mashups of broadcast content (after the live broadcast)etc if all the ‘rights’ are tied up.
  • With the assumption that every single person at the games will have a mobile phone capable of photography, video capture and live broadcast to the web, how are you going to support that?
  • The sharing of content is often dependent on the use of tags but most of the expected tags wouls be copyrighted or trademarked. Are you going to police that?

One definite conclusion I came away with is that the games will allow social media as long as they control it, as long as it’s on their terms. A couple of videos were shown, one from the Handover celebrations and one from the announcement of the London win. I was in Trafalgar Square that day and recall vividly the rush of adrenaline and the euphoria of that moment, but it’s indelibly linked in memory to the happenings of the day after, so much so that I can’t watch celebration pictures without getting emotional. As I was listening to the how they plan to manage and initiate social media conversations, I was watching news and images come in on my phone about the Mumbai terrorists attacks. There is much irony for me in the contrast of social media used to connect people about what is happening in the world in real time compared to what the Olympic Committee may be forced to do, which is use the tools to leverage a commercial connection.

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5 thoughts on “London 2012 and Social Media

  1. Great post, thanks Rachel. I also made it to the presentation and was struck with the thought that this was a real opportunity to mark out London from Beijing; to creatively use social media to generate a people-led games, rather than a government-sponsored games.

  2. Pingback: London ain’t Beijing baby! | Stuart Glendinning Hall

  3. Fascinating and depressing – sounds like there is a real opportunity in 2012 that will be stifled by “command and control” a lack of understanding of the new media landscape. Wish I’d been there, so great to get your report.

  4. Thanks Stuart, David. I think there is going to be a lost opportunity, but not for lack of Alex’s trying. The system just won’t let him, that’s what I took out of it.

  5. Thanks for your comments Rachel. Your post concerns me as I think I must have left the wrong impression of what we are hoping to do and what we think is possible. There are, it is true, restrictions on content distribution, particularly around live moving images and commercial assoications. The reason is simple – the games are expensive to run and the organisers need the support of sponsors and broadcasters to stage them at all. In return they are granted protected rights.

    However the modern social media landscape has changed the relationships between not only the Games and the public but many of these organisations too and we are in an interesting period of change.

    What I tried to make clear is that we are working with all our partners to ackowledge and make the most of these changes. As my last few slides (see: http://www.slideshare.net/balf/pinkerton-lecture-2008-presentation/) made clear we are actively considering sharing specator content in real time in physical environments around the games. We cant police the impossible nor can do we want to impede the probable.

    Speaking two days before me the President of the IOC, Dr Jacques Rogge, addressed an audience in London thus: “new technologies present us with new opportunities to engage and interact. On the internet today, people do not simply sit passively
    consuming content – they actively create, connect and share it. We can’t
    resist changes technology brings. We can’t and we shouldn’t.
    What we should do is focus on the immense opportunity these new
    channels provide us with; to think more boldly and imaginatively.
    The Olympic Games will continue to be one of the very few global events
    that can deliver a mass audience…Our challenge is to use the new digital revolution to communicate the power and joy of sport between Olympic Games. And to get young people and adults interested in the Games and sport by taking them seriously, and listening to them.”
    http://www.london2012.com/documents/culture/jacques-rogge-2008-de-coubertin-speech.pdf