Olympic viewers urged to be patient as BBC forced to juggle live streams

Frustration as reduced broadcasting rights limit corporation’s coverage to only two events at a time

Fans missing live Tokyo Olympics coverage of their favourite sports are being urged to be patient as the BBC juggles live streams in its most challenging Games, due to Covid and reduced broadcasting rights.

The corporation’s head of major sport events, Ron Chakraborty, acknowledged viewer frustration that the BBC could only offer two live events at one time – through one television channel and on iPlayer red button – after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sold European television rights to the pay-TV company Discovery in 2015.

“I understand the frustration. But be patient with us. We will do our best to give as many sports we can their moment in the spotlight over the 16 days. And we will certainly do our best to make sure that what is on BBC One and the second stream is the best of the Olympics and all those memorable moments that make it such a hugely popular event,” he told the Guardian.

During London 201 and Rio 2016, the BBC slogan was “never miss a moment” as all the individual sports were livestreamed, he said. But Discovery/Eurosport outbid the European Broadcasting Union alliance of public service media across Europe, including the BBC, to get the broadcast rights.

The arrangement, under which the BBC sub-licences from Discovery, lasts until 2024, and means frantic behind-the-scenes juggling, swift switching from sport to sport and plans ripped up by the hour by sleep deprived staff as the broadcaster aims to cram in as many memorable live moments and highlights as it can.

Despite the challenges, Chakraborty said the BBC would be broadcasting live unmissable events such as on Monday, with the Team GB swimmer Adam Peaty, the mountain biker Tom Pidcock and the synchronised divers Tom Daley and Matty Lee all taking gold.

Devoted fans of one particular sport, however, no longer had the option of multiple live streams, “so I can understand it’s a disappointment”, said Chakraborty.

Priorities were “obviously the medal moments, in particular GB medal moments”. “Usually there’s as many as 20 sports happening at the same time. So it’s trying to pick out what the priorities are, and also making them fit together in a way that has a bit of context, not just crashing in from sport to sport,” he said. “I think the phrase movable feast is the right one.”

He added: “It’s also trying to ensure that over the course of 16 days, that everyone has their moment in the spotlight.”

Social media presented another challenge for delayed coverage. “It is one of those dilemmas we have. It’s very difficult to jump around and be live all the time. You know certain events are going to clash with others. But what we can’t do is ask our social media feeds to delay things until we have shown it, because the world has changed, and dozens of other social media platforms will give away the results when they happen,” he said.

With the reduced offering and Covid dictating the BBC locate its studio in Salford rather than Tokyo, as well as on-the-ground commentators and presenters being subjected to tough restrictions, he said, “it has undoubtedly been the most challenging Olympics we have ever had to put on”.

But, he added: “On days like this we see Tom Daley – and that was such a magic moment – Tom has grown up in the spotlight with us. I remember him coming into the studio as a little kid in Beijing in 2008. Then there was the sorrow of his dad passing away … and now it’s finally happened.

“It’s one of those tales of personal journeys of the Olympics. It was such a great moment. Everyone here in the office applauded. They are the moments you do the Olympics for, those long hours for. It’s such a special thing.”


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

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