Ready, set for an interactive Olympics

Outlets strike deals to bump viewer engagement during the games

The London Olympics officially open in two weeks, which means media outlets are gearing up to cover them. That requires a totally new game plan (apologies) than at the Beijing Olympics four years ago, when Twitter was in its infancy and networks saw live webstreaming as competition to their nightly news broadcasts. In 2012, Olympics coverage is going cross-platform.

This will be Twitter’s big Olympic year. The site was still in its infancy at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but according to Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO, they now host 400 million tweets per day, with the busiest times during sporting events. Though it is not an official sponsor of the games, Nike has launched a Twitter campaign to post promoted tweets during Team USA’s basketball games in the feeds of people who follow basketball- and Olympic-related accounts.

NBC has also announced a partnership with Facebook, perhaps to compete with Twitter’s stranglehold on breaking sporting news. In this striking, cash-free arrangement NBC will show a “Facebook Talk Meter” on screen at various points during their coverage, which will indicate the most talked-about topics online. The network plans to use the data behind the talk meter and a small team of Facebook staff in London to help them write news stories on the most talked about topics. As reported in The New York Times, Facebook had 100 million users during Beijing; now, it has 900 million users, making this kind of “second screen” partnership (whereby the first screen is the television) more mutually beneficial.

This week NBC, which has exclusive American television rights to the games, also revealed that it has 5,535 planned hours of coverage, including near-constant livestreaming of events online. In the Beijing Olympics, NBC restricted its use of livestreaming for fear that those who watched certain games live would not tune into the evening broadcast. Now that social media coverage of events is so ubiquitous, those fears are redundant. According to the AP, there will be times during the games when the NBC Olympics minisite is handling as many as 40 simultaneous live streams. To watch some of these streams, users will have to log in with a valid television subscription.

Television coverage will still focus on four major competitions, chosen for their popularity: swimming, diving, gymnastics, and track and field. The Los Angeles Times reported that the games will lose NBC money, which the network hopes to make up for in exposure.

Meanwhile, various outlets, including NBC, have introduced new mobile apps to streamline their coverage of the games. The BBC launched a much-anticipated app for iOS and Android smartphones on Friday. It joins many other apps vying for attention on smartphone and iPad screens. Short of a power-outage, prepare for the games to be everywhere.

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Hazel Sheffield is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @hazelsheffield. Tags: , , ,