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31 Jul 2008, 11:59PM PT

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How To Follow The Olympic Games On Mobile Phones


Closed: 31 Jul 2008, 11:59PM PT

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LetsTalk's PhoneTalk blog wants to add new voices to its website, and they're posting regular Cases here for the Techdirt Insight Community to add interesting new content to their site. The winning submissions for each Challenge Case will be posted (perhaps with some editing) on the PhoneTalk blog -- with credits to the author. The following is LetsTalk's next assignment:

With the Olympics poised to start in early August, how can sports fans follow their favorite events? Will NBC cover everything? What other sources of Olympic games news can be accessed on mobile phones? What do you think of Yahoo's mobile services for following the Olympics? How good do you think Fring's coverage will be? Which Olympic Twitters will be the ones to follow? How can mobile phone users keep track of the events and discuss the games?  Do you think the less mainstream sources will be more engaging to sports fans?  

4 Insights


A comprehensive discussion of this topic with copious reader comments appears on ReadWriteWeb here:



It's an exciting time for mobile media coverage of the Olympics.  For the first time there are a plethora of tools and a real saturation of online access that will allow the closest coverage of an Olympics yet.

It will be interesting to see how the coverage to your phone will be achieved.

 Points to consider:

  1. There are three dimensions to the Olympics;
  •   Event:  common and less common events that followers take an active interest in; and
  •   Country:  national pride in supporting your country as it climbs the medal table; and
  •   Athlete:  following your favourite athlete on their Olympic journey 

     2.  Choice of channel will be controlled by timezone, technology choice and cost

  •  The biggest problem with the ESPN Mobile business model was that the concentration was on American Sport, for Americans in America.  Why would I choose to watch my baseball team on a mobile phone when I could watch it at home on cable or over IPTV?  Now with the Olympics being played out half way around the world the sport on your handset model would work due to the timeshift required between the event happening and where the average American will be at that time, i.e. at work
  • Will people choose to watch an event on their handset or simply receive updates?  a great service would be a mobile offering of the Yahoo Service that allows we to programme my TiVo from the Web.  Combine this with watch lists and reminders so I can get an update as say the decathalon progresses so I can record the next coverage to watch later.
  • The main driver for uptake will always be cost.  In countires where "all you can eat" mobile internet plans are less common any service needs to be cost effective to be value added to the consumer.

The biggest winner in this will be micro blog services, Twitter, Jaiku etc.  They all have phone based interfaces and I can see several channels springing up to cover the three dimensions.

  • The USA Team channel
  • The Fencing or Modern Hepthalon channel
  • The Hem Bunting channel 

These will become used as typically Olympic coverage is controlled by popular choice (Track and Field, Football) and skewed by broadcasting country (UK follows UK athletes, as do USA, Australia and New Zealand).  This leaves minor events and minor countries with little to no coverage.

And one for the kids.... what about the JingJing or BeiBei Twitter channel?

Joseph Hunkins
Thu Jul 31 11:45pm
David I hope Twittering plays as big a role as you think it will but I'm skeptical of microblogging for an event this big. I would follow actual *athelete* twitters, but I bet we'll see almost none of that and in fact I wonder how many Twitter folks are going to be there in the first place? Multiply that by the number who will engage and I'm guessing nary an Olympic tweet - though there will be a lot of chatter from statesiders on twitter about Olympics.
NBC paid over $600 million for exclusive rights to cover the Olympics — and they're not ignoring cell phone users. NBC is promising steady mobile alerts through NBCOlympics.com. I don't know if it's cell phone-ready, but NBC also has an online video site [requiring "Windows Media Center"] with a whopping 2,200 hours of live and interactive video (also available through NBC Olympics.com.) "Watch full length events" the site urges — even offering the downloading of video for repeat viewing offline. But the site's already drawing mixed reviews, so remember: they're not the only site for Olympics news.

ESPN Mobile has created a dedicated Olympics page, where they're promising a medal tracker, athlete information, news, recaps, and analysis. Meanwhile, ESPN.com has a complete schedule of all the events, and even created "Olympic Central." And yes, they'll be offering their own original reporting from China. ("ESPN forced to work Beijing's backstreets," read one headline.) ESPN reporters will interact with the athletes (without cameras), and they'll be allowed to use video highlights for news recaps — but only after they've aired on NBC.

But the Twitter feeds could become especially significant this year — bypassing the restrictions created by NBC's exclusive rights and the tight controls of the Chinese government. (Last month the Chinese police stopped interrupted a live interview on the great wall of China.) One San Francisco blog did a great job of collecting Twitter comments about the protests when the Olympics torch passed through San Francisco. A web site called Global Voices Online is already offering Twitter updates with Olympic news story (and the blogger at 2008 Games Beijing.com is promising the same)/ England's Sky News even boasts that they now have a news crew of 22 stationed in China, and they're all contributing to a group blog and Twitter feed. ("Can anyone in the uk remind me what the sun looks like? I've not seen it for Beijing's smog for the past week.") Will the smog affect the athletes? This is the kind of controversy that Twitter is made for.

Fring has even tried to assemble a massive network of amateur correspondents. In June they offered to provided a free 3.5G mobile phone with GPS, a camera, a local SIM card and nearly unlimited data to bloggers who'd provide grass roots Olympics coverage. ("...the winner, the loser, the cutest flag-bearer, the poor girl who lost her swimsuit, the poor guy who dropped the baton in the 4×100 meter final...you get the idea.") And CBS is trying something similar, offering free uploads of photos and videos to CBS Olympics . It's a very original idea — and there's always a chance that they'll capture that viral Olympics video moment that the bigger networks overlooked. And either way, it's a pretty exciting experiment.

Yahoo's Mobile site also has a dedicated page of Olympics news (including photos) — though there's no guarantee how complete its coverage will be. (ABC News's mobile site hasn't even created an Olympics category yet.) In fact, bloggers have already begun culling the best options for mobile Olympic news, suggesting customized event alerts through Google News or Plusmo's Beijing Olympics widget. Of course, top mobile news sites will be offering news updates, including the AFP and Reuters, but one commenter was more interested in the schedules and medal results being offered by GetJar.com.

And another reminded mobile Olympics fans not to overlook obvious source — Beijing's official mobile web site.

Will NBC cover everything?

NBC has promised to cover all the events via online or broadcast media - a remarkable event in and of itself and I think unprecedented in Olympic history.  Although there is more to the Olympics than just the actual sporting events NBC is also planning to cover opening ceremonies and certainly will do many of the athelete profiles that are fun to watch, so as a fan of some of the more obscure sports like Table Tennis I'm very excited to be able to follow things in a way I have never done before.

What do you think of Yahoo's mobile services for following the Olympics?

I have a feeling Yahoo's been so overwhelmed with corporate challenges that their mobile Olympics will be underwhelming.   So far Yahoo's offering a few unimpressive links with old news at their mobile Olympics online spot:

Fring is the really intriguing Web 2.0 player at the Olympics, and I'm anxious to see what they put out.   From the Fring site we learn they've assembled a team of "reporters" who are now applying for this this:

We will happily provide the fring Olympics commentators with a 3.5G mobile phone with GPS, camera, local SIM card and (almost) unlimited data plan. In return, the fringCommentator will regularly micro-blog with quick updates & pictures (the winner, the loser, the cutest flag-bearer, the poor girl who lost her swimsuit, the poor guy who dropped the baton in the 4×100 meter final… you get the idea). If you’re a real sports enthusiast you may focus more on the records; if you’re more of a night owl, we may all live vicariously through your night-time escapades in the Olympic village - pics & videos most welcome!

My guess is that Fring will be weak on the sports but much more interesting than NBC on the night life, especially if the Fring reporters get clever about getting out pictures and stories from Olympic Village and other Beijing nightlife venues.  Celebrity spotting is a lot easier if there are legions of smartphones in the house, so look to Fring for the stuff you can't get elsewhere.

In terms of mainstream sports coverage I'm guessing it'll be NBC all the way.  Veteran sportscasters will offer more insight than a microblogger standing at the finish line, and NBC appears primed to deliver great reports from dozens of venues.

NBC has paid handsomely for the privilege of coverage and despite some early reports of broadcast delays and minor commercialism features I think this will be the first Olympics to basically be "open sourced" in the sense that bloggers and TV and onliners of all stripes will be able to link to and discuss the NBC online clips.    I'm hoping Fringe also comes through with great stuff and also hoping regular twitter and blogger folks will provide a stream of real time interesting stories - but as a blogger I know if I was heading back to Beijing for the Olympics I probably would assume NBC's "got it covered" and I would not blog as enthusiastically as I do for events where I know I'm providing a unique point of view.   Microblogging and blogging can compete with regular media, but I think we'll see in Beijing they can't compete with mega-media.  At least not yet.

Nice Article About Mobile Olympics:

Fringe blog