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Digital Media on an Olympic Scale
Alex Balfour, head of new media for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, plans to make the 2012 games the first truly social summer Olympics

AMSTERDAM—Since winning the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games in 2005, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has placed broadband and mobile connections at the heart of its agenda.

According to Alex Balfour, LOCOG’s Head of New Media, the particular challenge that he and his team face is how the  2012 Games “will be able to deliver a large programme of events in a world which is increasingly driven by social media.

“We want to engage audiences directly and personally for London 2012.” he told delegates at IBC in Amsterdam. “We can do that online in an effective and memorable way by integrating social technologies into our new media strategy. This approach means we won’t lose out to third party sites that ultimately commoditise our content and the conversation around it.”

This task is made even trickier by having to plan against the background of such a fast-moving sea of technology and applications.

“We see the challenge slightly differently,” he says. “It takes between 7-8 years for a new innovation to grow from early adoption to penetration of over 60% of the market and a mass phenomenon. The same is true today of people using the internet through broadband connections and mobile media. Our starting point is thinking about the sociological implication of social media, not the technical implications. We are thinking more about scale and social habits than about platforms and technology.”

Balfour oversees the online delivery of all LOCOG's major consumer programmes including communications, ticketing, volunteering, ecommerce, torch relay, mascot, ceremonies and education. In 2012 he will also oversee London 2012's realtime internet results and information service which is expected to reach over 100 million visitors which he says, “is the most significant and visible piece of work we will do.”

In terms of social media, London 2012’s presence is being promoted through a YouTube channel, on FaceBook (130,000 members and counting), and Twitter (33,000 followers). The organisation has also built its own network, using Cisco’s Eos SaaS platform.

“We understand that having a network of itself has no real value,” says Balfour. “So with Cisco we’ve built two sites to date (one of them featuring the 2012 mascots) where we believe there is some incentive for consumers to be gained. Where this starts to get interesting is when scale starts to build as we approach 2012. In particular we will use something no other social network has, which is a physical presence at 170+ official venues. There is an exciting opportunity to feed digital content, perhaps augmented reality content, utilising the GPS-function of smart phones, into that physical space and create interaction.”

Currently this approach is being piloted at 23 large-screen venues throughout the UK in tandem with the BBC where Wi-Fi and networking capability has been included, but the bigger opportunity lies around the Torch relay and at the opening ceremony.

“Clearly we are not going to marshal the vast numbers of people who participated in the stadia in Beijing, but we can do something perhaps more fitting to the UK’s culture which is to connect people in realtime with the ceremony throughout the whole stadia and perhaps the entire UK and large chunks of the world through digital media. This is something we are working on in this quarter.

“If we have a network at the heart of that we can help make people a greater part of the 2012 experience.”