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As the Olympics get underway we’ve just scratched the surface with the Men’s and Women’s Road Race events. Still yet to come is the time trial, six days of track racing, BMX and mountain bike. So far the television coverage by host broadcaster OBS has been less than satisfactory for cycling fans. Commentary has suffered because of it and the viewing experience has been far worse than we’re accustomed to.
IOC Communications director Mark Adams said: “From my understanding, One network was oversubscribed, and OBS are trying to spread the load to other providers. We don’t want to stop people engaging in this by social media but perhaps they might consider only sending urgent updates.” Is there such a thing as an urgent social media message?
It’s inconceivable to me that OBS wouldn’t have provisioned for this given there were nearly a million people lining the roads on Saturday for the Men’s road race. I question their explanation because the Women’s race coverage in the pouring rain with far fewer roadside fans didn’t improve. By the sounds of it, electronic timing information that feeds back into the broadcast was disrupted by congested mobile networks because of fans using twitter. Reuters states that BT (the Official Olympic communications services provider), Vodafone and O2, said they had not seen any network problems.
Timing information for the Time Trial will be crucial for viewing. Other similar events to take place on the roads with potentially large crowds are the men’s and women’s triathlon and marathon.
OBS is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the IOC and hosts the broadcasting operation of the 26 Olympic sports. OBS provides the feed that every television station pools from in order to overlay their commentary and production. Unrelated to the coverage but worth noting that former UCI president Hein Verbruggen is on OBS’s board of directors.
I realise that as cyclists we often feel marginalised and we’ll always find something to whinge about, but the Olympics is far from being a charity event and our attention is what generates millions in advertising, sponsorship, and licensing dollars. There’s lots of cycling yet to come and we have a right to demand better.
Update: I emailed cycling commentator Scott McGrory asking his point of view on the broadcast feed and how it affects his job trying to call the race. Here’s what he had to say:
The issues we’ve had with the OBS has been a huge talking point with all the of TV crews.
Obviously our job is to enhance the broadcast and make the coverage of cycling as entertaining and informative as possible. Cycling fans in Australia have become quite spoilt in recent years with the excellent coverage of our sport, the Tour de France in particular. And with that comes certain expectations of how cycling is viewed on television.
Before the Olympic Road Race coverage started Phil and I had know idea that we wouldn’t be getting regular updates on time gaps and distance remaining. That increased the challenge of providing valuable information to the viewing audience and was frustrating to say the least. I was lucky to be sitting beside the consummate professional in Phil Liggett, who was able to soldier on regardless of the lack of information being provided.
My job in particular is to give an insider understanding of what is happening in the race, and how it may unfold. Without the basic information of time gaps and distance it was difficult to predict anything. How may riders working on the front of the peloton compared to the break, and the pedigree of those riders, versus kilometres remaining is an equation that we can work with to estimate whether the break will stay away or not.
Like any ex-sportsman though, I saw it as just another challenge. And with the confidence of knowing I had Phil to hold it all together, we did the best we could under the circumstances.