In the run up to the Olympic Games, Leaders in Digital Sport interviews BBC Sport’s editorial lead for the digital Olympics, covering viewing trends, personalisation, data integration and that old favourite: legacy.
Twitter ID: @BenGallop
What are you responsible for at the BBC, and specifically around the Olympics?
My job title is Head of Interactive and Formula 1 for BBC Sport. When it comes to London 2012, this means I am the editorial lead for the digital Olympics, working with colleagues on the technology side to bring the London Games to audiences across a range of new media platforms and services.
What excites you most about the BBC’s digital broadcasting and social activity around the Olympics and why?
The Olympics is simply the biggest of all the major sporting events – and when it’s happening in your own country, it just becomes even bigger. I’ve been working on this project since London was awarded the Games back in 2005 – and what has always excited me was that the Olympics would be coming to the UK at exactly the moment when digital media was becoming mainstream. So the timing is crucial – it feels like we’ve got the ultimate sweet-spot where new technology, changed audience activity and the biggest sports story of our lifetime all come together at the same point.
As we’re already seeing with the torch relay, the Olympics has the power to engage with all kinds of people across the UK – it’s exactly the sort of story that a public service broadcaster like the BBC should be covering, bringing the nation together for those generation-defining points in time. Our mission statement is that you will never miss a moment of the London Olympics. We will be showing 2500 hours of live sport, on up to 24 different video streams at any one time. If you love sport like I do, who could fail to be excited by that prospect?
There has been talk about the digital legacy of the Olympics, what will this be and how do you think it will change the way viewers consume sports content?
‘Legacy’ may sometimes seem the most over-used word when it comes to these Olympics, but it is a crucial one when it comes to the work the BBC has been doing around London 2012. Put simply, the effort we are putting in this summer will not only provide a major peak in activity right now, it will also lay the foundations for our digital broadcasting activity for years to come.
For us the legacy is two-fold – firstly it’s about creating digital services that are future-proofed and able to respond to the rapid advances in technology; and then there is an audience legacy, which is about encouraging licence fee-payers to take up digital services. We have a remit to help the UK population – particularly those who are not classic ‘early adopters’ – to span the digital divide. I would argue there is no better event than the Olympics to showcase to our audience the benefits of this array of new technology.
Offering content across 4 different platforms, what viewing trends do you think we’ll see? And what can you tell us about the connected TV apps?
I think we’ll see a continuation of a trend that has gathered pace in recent months, which is the increasing importance of mobile and tablet as broadcasting platforms. At weekends we now see that around 40% of users of the BBC Sport website are accessing our content on mobile. We will be enhancing our mobile and tablet services further this year to keep pace with this increasing move to hand-held devices. As sports fans, we all know why this is happening – it’s that compelling desire to keep up with the latest news and action wherever you are. Our role is to ensure our audience is always in touch – and where we have the rights, as we do with the Olympics, we want to let them watch the action on whatever device they have available.
Connected TV is more of a nascent trend. It’s yet to become widespread, but we believe the Olympics (and before that Euro 2012 and Wimbledon) is an opportunity to show off the benefits of internet-connected TV. When it comes to those big events, the principle benefit is the sheer scale of the offer – so all 2500 hours of that Olympic action will be available through connected TV services, on a range of different devices, games consoles and TV sets.
The key point here is that for the vast majority of our audience it is not an issue of technology, it’s all about content. So they shouldn’t even need to know that the pictures they are watching are delivered over the web – we need it to be a smooth viewing experience, where they can move from traditional broadcast transmission to a broadband stream in as seamless a fashion as possible. If you’re sitting at home watching on your 42-inch screen in the living room, you don’t necessarily care about the technology, all you are bothered about is watching whatever sport you can and, crucially, that it all works.
In-depth data will be integrated into the BBC’s coverage. How will the data and stats be brought to life?
Data is obviously crucial to sports fans – and there is an enormous amount of stats available during the Olympic. Our website will have data-driven pages on every country, discipline and competitor at the Games. Elsewhere data will play a key part in our online video experience, with overlays of the latest statistics and news alerts on the bottom of the screen while live action is going on. And we’ll be using data visualisation to tell stories of the Games in graphical form – including in our medals tables, because we know how much people will love to compare Team GB’s performance against all the other nations.
How will the Olympics coverage be personalised for each viewer?
Personalisation will be based around viewer choice. So people will have the chance to choose whatever event they want to watch, whenever they can and however they are able to do so. There will be so much going on during the two-and-a-half weeks of the Games and we want to make it as easy as possible for audiences to navigate around the wealth of live and on-demand sport on offer. They will be able to watch the action on all four of our digital screens – that’s online, mobile, tablet and connected TV. Website users will be able to select those sports they are interested in as ‘favourites’ so they always receive the latest updates and never miss a moment of the action.
What companion screen content should we expect?
Mobile and tablet will be important companion screens to the main TV coverage. We’ve already seen the power of social media as a second screen companion to linear TV viewing – and that process is likely to hit new heights during what promises to be a gripping summer of sport. Having re-launched the BBC Sport website at the start of this year, it is now optimised for tablet usage – as this is likely to be an increasingly significant platform for sports fans, giving them access to all the latest data, news and social interaction as they watch the action.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
The challenge is always keeping pace with the technology – and ensuring we deliver value for licence fee-payers. The market is moving so rapidly, so we need to innovate and experiment in emerging digital technology – but at the same time ensure there is a return on that investment for our audience, in terms of building reach and providing the kind of quality experience they expect from the BBC.
An example of that approach in practice is the BBC iPlayer, which in fairly rapid fashion established itself as the market-leading service for video on-demand and has helped our audience learn a whole new way of catch-up viewing. The key is to learn from examples like that as we look to further extend BBC Sport’s output into the blossoming digital sphere.
Twitter ID: @BenGallop
Ben Gallop leads the department which looks after BBC Sport’s new media services. He has responsibility for bbc.co.uk/sport – which is the largest sports website in the UK, with an average weekly audience of around 14m unique users – as well as BBC Sport’s ever-popular interactive TV and mobile services.
In addition to his new media role, Ben also heads up the BBC’s Formula 1 operation across all platforms. F1 returned to BBC screens in 2009 after an absence of 12 years and has established itself as one of the most popular sports on TV and online.
Ben is also leading the BBC’s Digital Olympics project, which has seen him help scope the broadcaster’s editorial and technological strategy for London 2012.
He joined the BBC in 1998, first working for BBC News before being appointed Sports Editor on the launch team for the BBC Sport website. Before that Ben worked for a number of years as a journalist for BSkyB and the Press Association, having started his career in local newspapers.
He was interviewed by Leaders Head of Content, Stephen Dobson.
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