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Friday, 4 May 2012

18hrs of Olympic coverage on the BBC - That's enough surely!


I was sat in a GCSE ICT lesson when London won the rights the Olympics. It felt like 18 hours had gone by without anything happening, my mouse curser flitting across a screen with the enthusiasm of someone who wanted to watch Songs of Praise, but got skeet shooting instead. It was awful.

So I know how you feel, sports-sceptics, when the BBC go and announce an utter binge of Olympics coverage during this summer’s games. 18hrs is a long time, almost as long as an ICT lesson feels, and that can do no good for anyone. 18hrs is a lot, too much, perhaps. But it’s the Olympics, sports-sceptics. The Olympics.

I, and I imagine most, will not be tuning in for every hour of BBC1s daily dose. People have their favourite sports, their favourite athletes, their favourite “he went to my school”  or “she jogged past me whilst I tried to figure out what the hell they were doing with the Cutty Sark”. The Olympics prides itself on being for everyone, offering the world its individual tastes and passions in the form of a sporting spectacle.

Whether or not you like sport is not an Olympic matter. Ask the majority in this country what their favourite sport is and they will name the week-in-week-out offerings; football, rugby, cricket. Cricket and rugby (the ‘Sevens’ game will feature at the Rio 2016 games) don’t even feature at the Olympics, and the football famously struggles to find the audience it does every Saturday afternoon. I’d say that most people don’t take a pro-active interest in athletics, but I’m willing to bet the 100m final draws in a serious crowd. People make exceptions when the Olympics make an appearance, and even more of one when it comes to town.

Contrary to what many might think, life will go on during the Olympics. People will hear their alarms, get up, dress and go off to work, almost like the Olympics aren’t taking place at all. So what happens if these super-mortals are sports fans? The extent of BBC1’s coverage allows people to live their lives in the knowledge that they will be able to watch the event that might be their sporting highlight of the year. Given the ticketing debacle that took place upon their release, many of those whose commitment to refreshing a ticketing webpage 16,000 times before being told the women’s beach volleyball was sold out may actually be able to watch in the comfort of their own homes. This is not a bad thing, nor is it a punishment to those who would rather watch Eastenders.

The nation’s favourite shows, which include the aforementioned Songs of Praise will be moved to BBC2. The fact that the Beeb have given a good three months notice to this change in routine suggests a backlash was, and will be expected.

I’d like to think that people’s problems are not with the BBC showing the Olympics at all, but rather that they are showing too much. In all, 2,500 hours of television coverage will be shown – Channel 4 will show 150 hours of Paralympic coverage. 26 high-definition channels have been created to cover each even in full. I am of the contention that more could have been done to work out what people are going to watch. I don’t know how much it costs to broadcast the synchronised swimming in high-definition but I’m willing to bet it outweighs the audience the event will attract. There could be less of it, sure, but can we really blame the BBC for wanting to give us everything it possibly can?

One of the more entertaining bus-journey conversations I overheard was between an elderly woman and her as elderly friend. Their issue surrounded the BBC’s decision to air a rugby match on Mother’s Day, when “no mother wants to watch sport”. Aside from the sweeping generalisation/utter joyous ignorance, this claim summed up people’s perception of sporting coverage in this country. Admittedly, I sit here writing this during a week I spent annoyed at Great British Menu being replaced by snooker, only to realise it had simply been moved forward an hour (see what I mean about 3 months being a decent amount of warning time). As a sports fan without Sky, trying to watch sport for free regularly, and legally, is very difficult.

But the Olympics come during a summer when sport fills the front row. Euro 2012, Wimbledon and the Olympics gives everyone two-thirds more than they would be used to. With events down at SW19 being protected by law, the BBC can hardly say we’ll have a year off from watching Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. Likewise, England’s almost certainly abysmal display in Poland and the Ukraine needs to be seen to be criticised. Sport isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean we shut it out. Soap operas aren’t for everyone, but that doesn’t stop channels 1-5 airing 17hrs of the things each week. Settling on a TV show is about compromise, especially nowadays with the choice so huge.

The creation of a BBC Sport Channel is something I have wanted to see for a long time, and would solve many of the issues that come with broadcasting live events. But for an occasion such as this, when the world will be watching, why should our premier TV provider not have the honour of airing such a phenomenon? The United States has a plethora of cable sports broadcasters, but chooses instead to broadcast their Olympics coverage on NBC, one of the four major networks. Sport appears to be an obsession detached from the mainstream, some people’s dislike for it somehow over ruling those who take so much pleasure and entertainment from it. This shouldn’t be the case. The Olympics will take up a lot of TV time this July and August. But this is the way it should be, the way it has to be.

Most television coverage isn’t anything to do with sports, yet sport is a common ground for far more of us than the events leading up to a week of ‘Hollyoaks: After Hours’ specials. The BBC family is four channels, two of which will see their schedule saturated by the games. It will be interesting to see whether the other channels try and compete – I would like to think they might. If people have to watch telly then they will, and if it means getting as far away from a BBC channel as possible then so be it. There is more out there than a month’s worth of Olympic Games. I sincerely hope we can cope.

Contributed by Will Downes Follow Will on Twitter

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