The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will sail in to uncharted waters tomorrow when the Games open in London, at the mercy of the millions of fans around the world on Facebook and Twitter, who will give instant reaction to everything that unfolds.
The explosion of social networking offers huge opportunities to the IOC, but with much of its revenues dependent on the billion-dollar deals agreed with broadcasters, the body overseeing the Games will also have to protect those long-held rights.
Fans inside a stadium will be allowed to use their smartphones to film Usain Bolt on the track or Michael Phelps in the pool, but they will not be allowed to upload it to Facebook in a ruling that may surprise many tech-savvy fans.
Anthony Edgar, head of media operations for the IOC, freely admits that he does not know what to expect in London following the explosion of social media, with about 900 million people using Facebook compared with 100 million at the time of the Beijing Games.
“Yes, you can’t hold a camera when you’re running down the 100m straight and do an exclusive broadcast. That’s for the broadcasters, but you can certainly talk about it,” he said in an interview. “You can certainly take photos of it and you can certainly write about it. We’re having to deal with things now that didn’t exist in Beijing, with a voice that wasn’t so loud in Beijing. Everyone is allowed to film who goes into a venue ... but it’s for personal use only.”
Ian Maude, an analyst in online media at Enders Analysis, said he thought it could pose a challenge to the social networks and the IOC, as many fans will not know the rules.
“Everyone has a mobile phone which is also a video camera these days and they’re going to want to record the moment for posterity,” he said. “I think there will be an issue with people not realizing the rules, but also some people could think about how much they’ve paid for those tickets and they may not care about the rules anyway.”
A spokeswoman for Facebook said the group would respond to any intellectual property violations in the same way they do with other events.
The prevalence of social media is also throwing up different challenges for the London organizers.
“Um, so we’ve been lost on the road for 4hrs,” said twice world 400m hurdles champion Kerron Clement via Twitter, showing how one athlete could change the perception of the Games with just one Tweet. “Not a good first impression London. Athletes and officials are sleepy, hungry and need to pee. Could we get to the Olympic Village please?”
Traditional media, including newspapers and TV in Britain, jumped on the fact the bus driver had got lost, despite the rest of the transport system appearing to be working properly.