Russell Davies: Different shades of liveness add colour to Games coverage
A view from Russell Davies

Russell Davies: Different shades of liveness add colour to Games coverage

By the time you read this, the Olympics will be over.

The media will have found an Olympic scandal to moan about and planners everywhere will be trying to cobble together a presentation on "what we can learn from London 2012". But don't worry, it will be the Paralympics soon, and then you can take another couple of weeks off. In the meantime, here's another pundit's perspective on the greatest show on earth - what does it teach us about "liveness"? What's the value of it these days?

Way back at the start of the Games (if you can remember that long ago), my Twitter stream was full of American friends complaining about NBC's coverage and of Brits crowing about the BBC. There was a substantial body of outrage about the way NBC was time-delaying the Games, and not even broadcasting all of it. Its decision not to show the 7/7 section of the opening ceremony didn't make this conversation any quieter or more reasonable. Many people contrasted this packaged approach with the BBC's maximalist tack: all the stadiums, every bit of sport, on a wide variety of platforms - all of it gloriously live and happening now. The Twitterati weren't slow to condemn NBC's failure to "get it".

Then, however, the picture got a bit muddier as it became clear that NBC's nightly Olympic packages were getting record ratings and raking in vast piles of ad revenue. And, as always happens, the black-or-white, this-is-the-future, no-one-will-ever-do-that arguments turned out to be insufficiently subtle to fit the facts on the ground.

The more interesting reality seems to be that liveness isn't really binary. There are huge shades of variety around live presentations. Some of the BBC's "red button" channels exposed one end of it - raw-feeling footage, no commentary, ambient sound - and this definitely had an appeal, especially for deep fans of that sport. At the other end were the montages and packages that broadcasters have always done well. The really fascinating bits were the experiments in the middle and on the sides.

The London 2012 website, for instance, was fabulous. It felt buzzy and live, but wasn't about video or even, really, pictures - it was about data, what had happened and when. And LOCOG had another stroke of genius in installing cameras high above the action in most stadiums and giving each of those cameras a Twitter account and a personality. It was another way into the action, another version of liveness - someone else becomes a "broadcaster".

Of course, brand owners aren't going to be slow to exploit these experiments. Sponsorship teams must be negotiating about GoalCam Twitter accounts even now. As ever, the only constant is more blurriness. Who's a broadcaster? What's live? Who knows any more?