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BBC's Olympics Win Moves Transmedia Coverage Forward



Chris Dobson
EVP and General Manager, Advertising Division
BBC Worldwide

During the London 2012 Olympic Games, BBC Worldwide unleashed 2,500 hours of TV coverage and 24 live feeds, marking a shift from multimedia to “transmedia” event coverage, says Chris Dobson, EVP and GM of the media giant’s advertising division. Dobson spoke to eMarketer’s Danielle Drolet about BBC’s digital broadcasting of the Games and its expected influence on future interactive TV efforts.

eMarketer: In terms of marketing channels and strategies for the Olympics within the UK, what were the BBC’s priorities and why?

Chris Dobson: The BBC’s central mission in the UK was to take content to consumers in every way that he/she wanted to receive that content. What came of age in the Olympics was all of the technologies converging. Beyond multimedia, we call it a transmedia way of behaving.

We wanted to make sure the audience was in contact with everything on a live basis, as well as having the ability to access as much as possible wherever and whenever. To start, we did 2,500 hours of TV across five channels. The next stage was about putting the audience in control. We did 24 live streams via the BBC iPlayer of every sport, 24/7, across every single device. We also did Facebook and mobile apps, as well as a dedicated Olympics website.

“We did live streams via the BBC iPlayer of every sport, 24/7, across every single device.”

eMarketer: Can you share some results? Were these different from what you had anticipated?

Dobson: Some of the statistics are mind-boggling in terms of how that worked out. Normally, you would expect television to be the high performer. We had television peaks of 27 million viewers per day, which is 82% of available audience. What was interesting was that, even with those TV peaks, for the first time in a major event, digital overtook television. We got to peaks of 34.6 million people in the digital streams.

Nobody has ever seen digital surpass TV in the world before on an event like this. If you go back four years to Beijing, broadband was only just getting going, so the notion of being able to even think about that was nowhere. This time, to get to peaks of more than half the UK audience viewing in digital at any one time was unprecedented.

eMarketer: What else surprised you?

Dobson: What was interesting about it was that nothing fell over. The server farms that had been booked all kicked in. The streams kept going. Everybody was accessing in real time and we had never, ever done anything on that scale before. It truly became transmedia. Our transmedia strategy has changed the way that the UK audience is expecting to be able to access live events. We’ve set a very high bar for ourselves now.

eMarketer: How will you translate what you learned from the Olympics to the future?

Dobson: We had an immediate benefit for advertising moving forward outside of the UK, where [the business] is all advertising funded. In the UK, BBC is public service and there isn’t any advertising play.

“For the first time in a major event, digital overtook television.”

One of the challenges to run the 24 live digital feeds across every device was how do you make sure the aspect ratio of the picture that you’re transmitting appears correctly on every device. The BBC engineers designed something called “responsive design,” which automatically switched the aspect ratio into whichever device you had.

A big challenge if you want to do multiplatform digital is that you or an advertising agency would have to give us multiple pieces of copy, sometimes only a pixel apart, and it’s a pain. We’re taking “responsive design” to allow one piece of copy to run across every device. We’re creating the ability to be transmedia in the advertising space in the digital, multichannel environment, which we plan to take to the market toward the end of this year and early next year.

It’s crucial to get monetization into where our viewers are. We are already running with 30% of our impressions in non-desktop devices and that’s twice what it was a year ago. This will give us the ability to make it very easy for an advertiser to engage with us as if they are only booking desktop, but in so doing, book every screen in a seamless fashion. That’s a direct benefit of the technology designed for the Olympics.

A longer version of this interview is available to eMarketer Total Access clients only. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a Total Access client, click here.

Check out today’s other articles, “Trends for 2013: Content, Context Vie for Supremacy” and “Marketers Seek Metrics to Evaluate Digital Video Ad Success.”

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