Harnessing the 'Twitter' Olympics: From #Van2010 to #London2012 (Full paper)
18th International Seminar on Olympic Studies for Postgraduate StudentsHarnessing the “Twitter Olympics”: The Use of New Media from Vancouver2010 to London 2012by Jennifer M. JonesUniversity of the West of Scotland, United KingdomIntroduction: What is “New” about New Media?Recent transformations in media production and delivery demonstrates a model ofcommunication that is shifting from a ‘one-to-many’ mass audience paradigm, to a ‘many-to-many’ era. These changes are characterized by the convergence of broadcast and printmedia, internet technology and mobile equipment and wider adoption of broadband, andtrends towards participatory media cultures, signified by user generated content andmultiple platform audience experiences (Jenkins, 2006: 2). Such changes have had adramatic effect on institutional communications policies, notably in terms of what the ‘bestpractice’ is in order to interact with an existing audience which have become promoters,communicators and appropriators of a brand’s intellectual property. (McQuail, 2007: 18).The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken bold steps towards embracingdigital media within their existing communication and media strategies, demonstrated inOctober 2009, when one of their core themes at the 13th Olympic Congress being devoted tothe “Digital Revolution.” Previously, the Olympic partners had driven innovation in suchareas. For example Samsungs “Wireless Olympic Works” launched during the Athens 12004 Olympic Games, showcasing early advances in mobile internet, designed to helpATHNOC officials and Games organizers to access important, digital information on themove. Similarly, Beijing 2008 may be regarded as the first truly digital games, thanks tomedia partners such as the BBC and NBC, who introduced full online and HD coverage ofthe games, revolutionizing the way in which the sport was experienced by their audiences.Indeed, it is reasonable to claim that, from Games to Games, sponsors aspire to achieve1http://www.samsung.com/us/news/newsRead.do?news_seq=2003&page=1
greater ‘personal bests’, as do the athletes. Yet, the IOC Congress brought the IOC’s workin this area to the foreground. Martin Sorrells recommendations towards a digitalrevolution spoke about the power of improved broadcast quality and reached out to thepotential of utilizing participatory media (such as social networking platforms such asFacebook and Twitter) and actively encouraging Olympic fans to recount their experiencesof previous games by advising the release of archival clips on video-sharing platforms onYouTube to encourage fan-generated content through remixing and responding.Furthermore, in correspondence with the launch of the redesigned website, Olympic.org,Sorrell recommends that the IOC begin to increase public access to their archival database.He describes this process as being a permanent move from linear media technology, suchas a one-off broadcast of Olympic events, to an on-demand linear (the ability to replay thatbroadcast) to a community focused, on-demand experience, where audiences use therepeats of individual broadcasts to bond through with a consistent dialogue. In this case,the website is an important asset to the brand as it increasingly becomes the first port ofcall for official communications about events, news and educational information about theOlympic movement.Sorrell introduces this proposed online community as a new wave of social coverage”, suchas President Obamas much documented social media campaign on the run up to beingelected (Qualman, 2009: 61), or Nike encouraging niche communities around urbanrunning and trainers which are digitally enabled by Apples iPods – for them, the Olympicwebsite should be considered a hub in which new and existing audiences can use to form abond with the movement.The IOC and the InternetFor over a decade, the IOC have had an presence on the Internet, which ranges from theofficial, promotional/educational portal of olympic.org, to the showcasing bidding hostswebsites which offer a digital glimpse into the personality of a city and lays out a publicpresence of how hosting an Olympic Games can benefit the local and national communityof the hopeful nation. Furthermore, the successful organizing committees begin to usetheir website to build content and information least 6 years before their Games are due tostart (Moragas & Kennett, 2005: 3). It is hard to imagine how an Olympic Games, like the
forthcoming London 2012 Games, would function without a sophisticated and multi-platform web presence to guide visitors and sports fans along the process of building anOlympic city. Incidentally, it has been only as recent as March 2011 where we have startedto seen the web address of games post-Athens 2004 being redirected to a olympic.orgarchive containing selected text, image and video highlights of the action from the events.Nevertheless, content relies on an edited decision which does not necessarily include theemergence of Web 2.0 and social media audience generated content. There is a synergybetween how the IOC archives Games-time activities generally and how it negotiates theemergence of many more new social media platforms that are likely to emerge. Questionsof governance and resource management are central to these matters. This raisingquestions about how the blurring between broadcast and participatory media could begenuinely by captured and utilized by a traditional organization such as the IOC. If the IOCare to harness such outputs from websites such as Twitter, then we must understand howthe digital archiving process works within the mega event context. One way in which thiscan be done is by looking at what the subsequent media partners and organizations havedone during the recent Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and what is planned for theforthcoming London 2012 Summer Olympic Games.The media contextIt is widely understood that the financial implications of the Olympic infrastructure isheavily reliant on the revenue negotiated through the sponsorship from the Olympicprogram (TOP) and the broadcasting rights of event (IOC Marketing Factfile, 2010: 6).This has remained the case since the IOC’s financial crisis in the 1980s, allowing forcorporations carry the bulk of the cost of delivery. Therefore, the quickening evolution ofthe new media landscape and their subsequent effects emerging technologies has had onhow media content is produced, distributed and managed is something which is somethingwhich has research relevance for the IOC; namely how the exclusivity of access afforded bybeing an Olympic partner is maintained within a space which is inherently non-linear andand completely decentralized in its approach to narrative dissemination.Furthermore, the proposed transformation of communication technologies, the mediapopulation during games time has diversified. For example, since Sydney 2000, there hasbeen the emergence of host city sponsored, non-accredited media centre providing
facilities and access to visiting journalists/bloggers without IOC media accreditation.(Miah, Garcia & Zhihui, 2008: 453) More recently during the Vancouver Winter Olympics,as well as a British Columbia government hosted centre, there were at least three declaredindependent centres that were acknowledged and formalized prior to the Games, to reportstories from within Vancouver and the surrounding region. The space each organizationoccupied had differing access to media production facilities, from providing physical spacefor resources and to meet face to face and for discussions to existing purely online,choosing not to subscribe to physical representation of their institution.This paper will now address aspects of Olympic media and its infrastructure from withinthe context that new media participation has had a direct influence on the Olympic Gamesin how it is situated and communicated within this space. It assesses the online activity offour different types of self-proclaimed media organizations by the Vancouver Games andwill consider whether new, non-professional, alternative and online forms of mediainvolvement can continue to develop and outside of the IOC’s media agenda. Finally, it willargue on behalf of a new media infrastructure for the Olympic Games, beginning withLondon 2012, which draws from the benefits of citizen media reporting as a directchallenge or complementary form to existing mass media. Whilst much of this can berelated directly to changing creative labour practices within larger organizations - and havea bearing on mega events in general - the Olympic Games are a focus because of the natureof data collection gathered during the period of the 2010 Olympiad and is situated within awider study of the new media landscape of the UK during the run up to London 2012.Vancouver 2010: The Twitter OlympicsDuring the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, there were at least 6 types of media venuein operation during the games time period. The Vancouver Organizing Committee(VANOC) provided at least two of these venues, namely the Main Press Centre (MPC) andthe International Broadcast Centre (IPC), which had several build-for-purpose facilitiesacross the geographical locations of the events (such as in downtown Vancouver and thewinter sports resort of Whistler) Further to these facilities, there was also a host provinceled non-accredited media centre, British Columbia International Media Centre (BCIMC)which provided a space and a set of resources for visiting international journalists whomay or may not have received IOC official accreditation for the official media venues. In
addition to this, there was also a substantial and independent social or citizen mediarepresentation within these game time space. Indeed, the Olympic Review which followedthe Vancouver Games, cited them as being “The First Social Media Olympics.” (2010: 10)Yet, as mentioned previous, the IOC’s official articulation of this phenomena concerned theuse of user-generated content within controlled and organized circumstance. This includedIOC controlled Flickr (a photo sharing website), Facebook and Twitter sites that selectedparticular threads and narratives which suited the dominant messages that the VancouverGames wished to be represented by. Regardless of this, there were at least three pre-confirmed independent media centres or organizations, that had no formal accreditationwith the IOC, VANOC or the host province established ahead of the games beginning. Theyprovided locational support or resources, or a form of accreditation for journalists orcitizen reporters to act as media workers ‘on the ground’ during this transformative time.There are two examples which will be used within this paper, W2 Arts and Culture House,a community media centre which were situated in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver,crudely referred to as ‘Canada’s poorest postcode”; and True North Media House (TNMH),an entirely online self-accredited media centre, that provided media pass templates foranyone to print and laminate, in order to access stories and activities which could beshared and uploaded via personal website and blogging platforms. What, BCIMC, W2 andTNMH had in common was the intention to cover alternative stories which emerge duringGames time, which official journalists and media reporters might not have the motivationnor ability to cover due to their roles relating to sports-only access. Furthermore, the low-cost of energy to self-publish through the use of digital and mobile technologies hasafforded the ability for those who may not be identified as ‘official’ journalists to capture,upload and share content that rarely gets covered during past games (Tapscott andWilliams, 2008). It could be argued that the prerogative of the alternative reporter can beone that need not ever concern the coverage of sport, nor compete with the exclusiveaccess given to those who can afford to secure the media rights in their country - instead,they have the opportunity to illustrate the complex and rich circumstances of an Olympiccity during this intense period of competition.From this, with reference to London 2012 specifically, Caplan (2010) argues that battle ofthe narrative and legacy for these Games has already began online, through the use of weband mobile protocols by individuals and the official London Organizing Committee(LOCOG) By accessing photography around the event locations, he looks at how both the
formal, informal and protest movements around the olympic games. There are not juststaged and prepared photographs, but mobile snapshots, equipped with geographical data,which have been ‘shot from the hip’ and shared quickly across social media platforms. Thisbuilds a layer of additional data across the city which cannot be seen unless youunderstand and know where to look. Therefore, Caplan states regardless of the viewpointof the Olympic games, the motivation for embracing the protocols is one of legacy andparticipation - a legacy of history, a legacy from development and done so throughparticipation within the networks. Furthermore, he discusses how the act of rebellion ornarrative hijacking can not happen with just one or two objects, such as the casual image.There needs to be a ‘mobbing’ effect to change any sort of dialogue around the mega event.That is, the informal capturing of images and wider digital content from citizens is rarelygoing to have an effect on the wider games communication framework, but insteadgenerate a wider set of messages, from different parties affected by the Olympic Games.This can spread in a multitude of ways and to multiple individuals and groups, both onlineand offline. He argues strongly about the importance of the online in the construction of amega-event and how pro and anti groups -and the shades in between- have commonthemes in their delivery, where the only way to use the protocols is to agree on the processof network participation and a legacy of their activities - be it a financial, political or asocial legacy (Caplan, 2010: 32).Returning to the Vancouver case, to assess the evolving media environment, two majordimensions of this phenomena must be considered. Firstly, it is necessary to explore howthose within the case networks identity themselves and with each other, either through thecontent that they have produced for an online audience or the ways in which they usemedia rhetoric to strengthen the authority of their reporting and of their position. Second,it is important to assess what opportunities arise through participation as an organizedcitizen media network, and how this may have an effect on their ability to analysis orcritique narratives and events.Accredited MediaMiah, Garcia and Zhihui (2008) articulate the present of accredited media as those whothat adhere to the IOC’s guidelines that determine who a official journalist can be; enabling“privileged access to Games venues and exclusive right to report the official
competitions.” (Miah, Garcia and Zhihui, 2008: 452) In the case of Vancouver, theaccredited media were those who had access to the MPC and/or IPC, and therefore hadvarying degrees of access to venues and/or Olympic Broadcasting Service content between12th February and 1st of March, 2010. Accredited media concerns those organizations whohave purchased the exclusive rights to sports coverage or journalists, freelance and/or whobelong to organizations who have been approved to report on the games in this manner. Inaddition to custom build media venues, it is common for some organizations to constructtheir own dedicated olympic studios to accommodate larger volumes of staff. For instance,the Canadian broadcaster CTV constructed a studio in downtown Vancouver, one part ofwhich had a street-facing window, that actively encouraged local audiences to gatheraround their facilities to be capturing on screen. This made the physical mediainfrastructure becomes part of the Olympic festival experience in its own right, creatingnew forms of Olympic venue within the Olympic city (Miah & Jones, 2011)In addition to accredited media, there were also several official VANOC channels acrosssocial media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube - the first for anOlympic Games and building on Sorrell’s recommendations from the congress in theprevious year. The account were used to specifically share up to date news about thesporting events, encourage engagement around particular events and athletes, and mid-way through the games, on the 18th of February, 2010, the IOC’s head of Social Media,Alex Huot, hosted a “blogger’s only” party at Yahoo!’s popup head quarters in Vancouver,to announce that fan photograph’s could be shared, non-commercially, using an officialOlympic group on Yahoo! owned Flickr.com. This was a major step for the IOC, aspreviously cease-or-desist letters were sent to those who captured copyrighted images,such as the Olympic rings and of the sport, asking fans to remove or face legal action. Thiscan only be the start if we are to make predictions towards London 2012’s social mediaengagement strategies.Non-Accredited MediaAs Miah, Garcia and Zhihui articulate that when the term “non-accredited‘ is discussed inreference to Olympic media, we are discussing a journalist or media organisation who maynot have access to accredited media sources, but still has an accreditation of sorts from theestablished Centre, “so they are not simply unaccredited or completely external to the
Olympic organizational framework.” (Miah, Garcia and Zhihui, 2008: 453) The non-accredited centre is usually funded and constructed by the host city’s governance structure- normally a local or provincial council. During Vancouver 2010, this was the BritishColumbian Provincial Government, that kitted out the downtown University of BritishColumbia (UBC) campus with media equipment and resources, for local and visitingjournalists and media outlets to report on stories out-width of the official sporting remit.By receiving accreditation to the BCIMC, the non-accredited person received story ideasand press releases with a focus on tourist, cultural and localised topics. They could alsogain access to press conferences that were being held within the UBC space. There was adistinct overlap in content between the accredited and non-accredited space, especiallywhen it came to notably individuals who were visiting the centre. For instance, torchbearers such as Arnold Schwarzenegger ran with the torch for the purpose of officialaccredited media, before participating in a press conference about environmental issueswith the Pacific rim at the BCIMC. Although stories had a different perspective to thoseprovided within official spaces, there were still plenty of access given to journalists withinthis area.Independent Media: Physical SpaceOne of the independent media centres mentioned previously was W2 Culture and MediaHouse, situated in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver. w2 is part of a widercultural hub for the area, that focused on using arts and creative technology to improvecommunity cohesion within the local area. During the Vancouver Games, they provided amedia centre with facilities for independent journalists and hosted cultural events, onlinebroadcasting and art and media focused conferences. (creativetechnology.org, 2010)Although home to an variety of independent media outlets, such as rabble.ca, freshmedia,indymedia.org and Vancouver Media cooperative (http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/) therewere also a number of volunteers which acted on behalf of w2 to produce content for thecentre. Like VANOC, they were also using twitter, facebook, flickr and youtube to captureand share content relating to their interpretation of the games time period. One notablyexample was that of Fearless City Mobile, a grassroots collective of those who resided inthe DTES, who used 40 donated mobile phones with video and data sharing capacity
capture their own perspectives of the Vancouver Games, whilst acting as ‘human rightsdocumenters’ (http://fearlesscity.ca: 2010) These outputs were screen in eight live publicspaces across the city, turning the spectacle into another venue, much like CTV’s windowinto the television studio.The stories captured those within and connected to w2 served a purpose to collect andgenerate a searchable database of geo-locative content which could be accessed throughoutthe local and international community online. Much like Caplan’s argument, theindependent and citizen media outputs were designed to capture an Olympic narrativethrough use of digital protocols.Independent Media: Virtual SpaceSimilarly, the final case study concerns True North Media House, an online project thatwas designed to grow an Olympic media centre using social media platforms only. Thewebsite encouraged participants to sign up using a web form, detailing name and websiteaddress. They were then guided to edit, print and laminate a pre-designed media pass,finishing the process of accreditation. The pass linked to a set of guidelines and objectivesof the collection, focusing on the requirements to create and publish content that would beuseful to international ‘media creators’, offer a platform for lesser-known athletes, culturalolympiad and community groups and showcase Vancouver a ‘new media innovator andentrepreneurial hub,’ setting the ground work towards future Olympic Games (True NorthMedia House, 2010)The group supplemented their online interaction with a range of self-governing activitiesincluding “tweetups”, photo-walks, field trips and outing with international journalists.Additionally, some TNMH participants managed to gain accreditation to the BCIMC,allowing for the to pull in additional content from the press streams generated by the non-accredited centre. During the course of the games, TNMH moved from a social mediaexperience to a full blown media outlet, at least when it came to gaining access toparticular areas. The blurring between the ‘official’ and the blogger was maintainedthrough the way in which content was shared and posted. There was no one space thatdealt with what was being published, instead, articles on individual websites and socialmedia profiles were being aggregated into a page using a syndication protocol, which
TNMH called a ‘firehose’ of content. The instance that a self-accredited TNMH reportercould, indeed, gain access to media events such as sponsorship parties and press briefings ,such as the previously mentioned, official Flickr event, could be one that is unique toVancouver. Nevertheless, it raises questions about what exactly is required from anindividual in order to be considered as ‘media’ during an intense period of activity such asthe activity generated at an Olympic Games, within an Olympic City.ConclusionsIt would be a mistake to characterize media change as being an inherently ‘new‘ thing, notleast because it has been taking place on a ongoing basis for at least a century (Naughton,1999: 269). One might even say that change is a defining condition of media culture.Nevertheless, through the discussion of even a small area of the media diversity present atthe Vancouver Games, we can already see a transformation in how Olympic Media is beingconsidered and how it is being delivered, by both those who are ‘accredited’ by the IOC andthose who are situated on the periphery. Furthermore, we are seeing how media spaces canbe used as events in their own right, making the experiences of being within an Olympichost city being something where media is at the heart of the city’s narrative and identity.Lastly, the use of embedded geographical data within media created by mobile devicesused to produce, capture and distribute social media content, is creating an invisible layerof data, which represents the city in a communal, decentralised fashion. Therefore, if theIOC are to begin to take further steps beyond the simple broadcast of existing narratives onnew platforms, which may or may not stand the test of time that the IOC has managed toachieve, they must be thinking in terms of an Olympic Games being more than a mediaevent, but instead a media festival, engaging directly with the citizens who are sharing themedia content, regardless of what they might be communicating.
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