Leading up to the London 2012 Olympics the buzz was undeniable – this was going to be the first social Olympics. Generating over 150 million tweets in a two-week span, the Games did not disappoint.
Social media gave people around the world unprecedented access to the Olympics, extending the in-person experience beyond the participating athletes, members of the media and the lucky fans in attendance. Virtual stadiums were established on the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram as fans gathered virtually to celebrate victories and vent their frustrations.
The connection with athletes was just as strong. Through social media, fans were able to follow and interact with athletes as they trained, qualified and participated in the Olympics. Leading up to and during Usain Bolt’s 200m race, more than 80,000 tweets per minute were generated – a telling statistic when you consider that the race was over in 20 seconds. The Spice Girls generated a record breaking 116,000 tweets per minute during their performance at the closing ceremonies, while Michael Phelps received more than one million new Twitter followers over the course of the Games.
For Olympic organizers and broadcasters, going digital was a necessity. “From the start, we made a commitment to digital and social,” said Mark Silver, Head of Digital Media at Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium.
To ensure viewers got the full TV experience, high quality video streams (count them – 20 live concurrent 720p HD quality streams!) were channelled to as many mobile devices as possible. The addition of contextual commentary and play-by-play analysis of highlights further contributed to the live experience, regardless of when and how the viewer chose to actually watch the events.
“To extend the TV experience, we aligned the biggest stories across social media, live broadcasts and web portals,” said Monika Platek, Social Media Lead at Canada’s Olympic Broadast Media Consortium. Viewers were able to watch the live broadcast on TV while simultaneously accessing photos from inside the venue via Twitter and Facebook. “Social gives people more perspectives and angles of the coverage than ever before” And more vantage points there were – even the Olympic pool was tweeting photos!
Looking back on the great success that was London 2012, it’s clear that sporting events have evolved. “We’ll never go back when it comes to sports,” said Platek. “Sports fans will always want to socialize no matter what the event.”
As social media and technology become increasingly integrated into athletics, it should also be expected elsewhere and everywhere. Whether it’s sports fans, consumers or citizens, at the end of the day, people want to be involved.