Did the media rise to the Olympic challenge?

11/09/2012  -  10.49am

Paul Brighton, Head of Department of Media and Film

So who were the biggest winners in this remarkable summer of Olympic and Paralympic sport? The likes of Mo, Usain, Ellie and Sarah, obviously. This was the year when not only Olympian but Paralympian heroes became recognisable by their first names alone. The Games Makers, unquestionably, along with Seb Coe and his team; the crowds; and all of the millions who have watched both festivals of sport with such keenness.

But before we all disappear in a welter of congratulation, let’s remember that you can have successful events after which not everyone shares in the praise. Just think back three months to the Diamond Jubilee when the consensus was “great event: shame about the media”. It wasn’t all of the media, of course: but the biggest player, the BBC, was not seen to have risen to the occasion.

So what about this time? Well, the television pundits, by general consent, had the better of the presenters. Even in Monday’s Parade, there were a couple of occasions where interviewers began with a “question” along the lines of “Well, there aren’t any words for this, are there?” only to be given a superbly eloquent reply by Sir Chris Hoy, Sarah Storey and others!

By and large, though, these were the Games where public service broadcasters rose to the challenge: both BBC and Channel 4. If there was ever a secret fear that Paralympic viewing audiences wouldn’t be as big as hoped, they were comprehensively and triumphantly dispelled. Early figures suggest that Channel 4 beat BBC1 and ITV throughout Sunday: and not just for the Closing Ceremony, but for the final rounds of competition too. So perhaps the real lesson of the Paralympics is that you don’t HAVE to be a public service broadcaster to show the Paralympics: the audience will be there anyway.

How sad and predictable, therefore, that the only real sour note came from the American network NBC. No live Paralympic coverage, and just a few hour-long highlights shows yet to be broadcast. Olympic coverage delayed by several hours to suit the advertisers. The International Paralympic Committee making its disapproval unusually explicit, announcing that the television rights will be reviewed for the future. They say we get the media we deserve. Oh dear: what have the Americans done?