Will London 2012 herald the next great innovation in sports coverage?


In 1927, BBC Radio broadcast the world's first coverage of a football match.

And it was a fiasco because listeners couldn’t understand where the ball was on the pitch.

So the next week, BBC Sport published a grid in the Radio Times that divided a pitch into eight segments. Then, during the broadcast, one of the two commentators simply shouted numbers corresponding to the ball’s location. To a modern ear, this recording sounds comical. The blurting of numbers – “1…5…8…3…” - sounds like an overly caffeinated bingo caller or malfunctioning robot. But in its time it was the first great example of innovation to help audiences get more from sport.

Since then, the best sports broadcasters have developed ever-greater innovations.

BBC’s snooker in colour.

Fox Sport’s onscreen clock.

Channel 4’s Hawkeye in cricket.

Sky’s HD and 3D.

But I think we’re now entering a new era in TV sport innovation. London 2012 is being hailed as the “first social Olympic games”. It’s amazing to think that since Beijing 2008, Facebook has grown 9 times larger, while Twitter has grown 100 fold.

For this year’s Olympics, the BBC and NBC have each announced a tie-in with Facebook.

On BBC Sport’s Facebook app, you’ll be able to stream every event live. When you ‘like’ a stream, it will tell your friends you are watching, say, beach volleyball (and they in turn can call you a pervert).

In America, the NBC Olympics page on Facebook will carry exclusive content for fans. The data generated by people watching online will then be used to inform which events NBC showcases later that evening.

Meanwhile, YouTube has snapped up the digital rights to the Olympics in 64 territories across Asia and Africa, which will provide a global discussion forum for YouTube’s famously erudite and tolerant commenters below-the-line.

So we’ll all be watching together and chatting about events together. And when Yohan Blake beats Usain Bolt in the 100m final (you read it here first, folks) we can stand gobsmacked and share a moment of history together.

These Olympics are sure to be dramatically different from Beijing 2008. The opening ceremony will be a bit more shoestring. And the incessant rain will make it feel much more like a Tarkovsky movie.

But will it also be different in the way we watch and experience it socially?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

John McDonald, Planning Director

This is part of our on-going blog series 'Olympics and the Future of TV'