Interview: BBC’s Olympics will deliver an ‘online legacy’

Phil Fearnley isn’t sure which will be the most used of the “four screens” identified for delivering Olympics coverage this summer – Web, mobile, tablet or connected TV.

But the BBC News & Knowledge general manager is promising a buzzword right on-message with London games organisers themselves – “legacy”.

“We don’t know how people are going to consume it, but we’re going to make sure they get the best possible experience they can,” Fearnley told paidContent, after showing off BBC Sport’s Olympics web video player, data feeds, connected TV services and mobile apps.

“We believe that connected TVs will be a really big part of the future. We have delivered on Red Button services for years, sporting events have been a big part of that – we get 10 to 13 million unique users a week on Red Button services.”

Fearnley refused, when asked, to elaborate on digital Olympics costs incurred by the BBC, which has faced funding cuts after years of budget envy from commercial rivals.

Instead, he promised developments would have “legacy” – a term plucked right from the playbook of London’s own Olympic organisers, who have been building costly sporting stadia, during public spending cutbacks, to last.

“We never share cost figures,” Fearnley said. “We have value-for-money in mind for our license payers. We are making sure the things that we do can be used way beyond the Olympic Games.

“We delivered the Sport (website) refresh six months before. We delivered our streaming services so we can do Wimbledon, F1 and the Diamond Jubilee post-Olympics, making sure that legacy gets to our audience as soon as we possibly can.”

On Tuesday, he told a briefing: “Much like the velodrome and the aquatics centre, that were built with lasting legacy at their core, we have built our online experience to leave a lasting digital legacy for our audiences.”

A mixture of earlier incremental product innovation and Olympics-specific new builds, the corporation’s online games platforms will later be re-deployed on other sporting events and music concerts like the Glastonbury festival.

For the new products which are being brought to the table, the 2012 Olympic Games is a dry run for far smaller use cases to come.

Coupled with this year’s Jubilee coverage, Auntie believes it must fulfil its remit to galvanise the nation. All in all, 2012 is a very big year for the BBC, as well as for Britain.

“Do I feel pressured?,” Fearnley asked paidContent. “I feel comforted by the team we’ve got here. This is the most comprehensive testing we’ve ever done at Online, we’ve very confident.”

“It’s the first time our audience gets total control,” Fearnley said during Tuesday’s briefing.

“We’ve tested it every day for months. The biggest single event we’ve ever seen was in the World Cup when England played Slovenia. Take that and double it – that’s what we’ve been planning for the Olympics.”