Coffee-geeks in the trendy East London cafe were slightly alarmed as I first shouted with joy, then wiped tears from my eyes, as Gemma Gibbons slammed her opponent to the mat and mouthed “I love you mum,” to the heavens. But by the time Anthony Joshua took gold in the boxing two weeks later, my fellow commuters on the bus, infected with the Olympic spirit, crowded round the tiny screen I was watching it on and cheered him through the final seconds of the third round.
Stories of the Olympics affecting viewers are not a revelation, but the way in which I watched these two events was revolutionary: on my mobile phone, using the BBC’s Olympic App. As I sat on the Number 73 on my way home that night, I didn’t need to worry about missing a single bit of Olympic coverage – it was delivered directly to me, via the phone network. I could even keep up-to-date with my new-found passion for horse-dancing as I commuted on the Underground, thanks to the free WiFi at many stations. And I didn’t just use the App for live coverage whilst moving around. As I sat and watched the Games at home, I could use the App to bring up biographies of Iranian wrestlers, information about the scoring system of The Modern Pentathlon or keep up-to-date with Korean success in martial sports.
The enormous hunger for Olympic coverage acted as a gateway to new technology use for an audience that might otherwise never have considered downloading an app for a sporting and broadcast event. Sky and others have broadcast to mobile devices before, but it was the sheer, unexpected, scale of uptake that marked this as a paradigm shift: according to Roger Mosey, BBC Director of London 2012, over 2 million people downloaded the app. That is a phenomenal number of people, whose concept of interacting with broadcasting has changed forever.
At the closing session of the Edinburgh Television Festival, the panel discussed the legacy of the BBC’s 27 channels of live coverage. But I think the Olympic App, and how it has opened up opportunities for mobile-device interaction, is the real legacy. Thanks to the BBC’s well-executed, multi-platform coverage, there will now be less friction when offering audiences multi-platform programming. That is the quiet, unexpected, game-changer of the BBC’s wonderful Olympic coverage and it’s up to us to make the most of it by being creative and playful in producing multi-platform programming.