An Olympic personal best for the BBC

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The Independent Online

Without any question this was, from a media perspective, the BBC's Olympics. It was the moment when the potential of red button technology, with us for many years, became apparent in the most hypnotising way. It was the Games we loved to watch in slo-mo, seeing up close every grimace and stretched sinew on the way to the podium.

That immediacy was matched by the whirlwind of comment on Twitter and Facebook that drove ever more viewers to BBC1, BBC3, the BBC Sport Olympics app and the iPlayer. Hats off and run up the Union Flag one more time.

But so transfixed were we by BBC coverage that the commercial end of the media was left with almost as great a sense of anti-climax as the traders in the strangely deserted streets of the West End.

It wasn't for the want of trying. "I think the press have covered the Olympics brilliantly well – it might illustrate to us what we would miss if some of these titles don't exist in a few years," said Stewart Easterbrook, chief executive of Starcom MediaVest. "The surprise was the sheer volume of audience the BBC generated with the amount watching through the red button."

Commercial broadcasters expected to be frozen out but perhaps not to this degree. ITV might as well have taken a fortnight off – though it claimed success for the launch on ITV2 of Keith Lemon's "Lemon La Vida Loca" as some viewers sought an alternative to sport.

Sky, supposedly the home of sports, was on the outside looking in as audiences tumbled. Its consolation was to know that its long-term marketing investment in Bradley Wiggins's Team Sky and the sport of cycling now looks prescient and has conferred a halo effect on the brand.

Channel 4 took a gamble in committing to coverage of the Paralympics two years ago and is now set to reap the dividend. Olympics euphoria has left a hunger for more and C4's concern will be that the BBC's coverage is such a tough act to follow, although it has secured the services of the nation's new favourite sports presenter Clare Balding.

On the news-stand the most obvious winner has been The Times, which landed a 100,000 sales lift for its opening ceremony coverage.

These sponsored souvenirs – with partners such as Samsung and Sky – were sold at bargain rates and could be a high profile signal by News International that it is willing to be flexible with advertisers (stretching Times editorial traditions), in order that NI appears commercially more attractive to prospective buyers as News Corp prepares to reorganise the company.

The quality sector of the newspaper market has outperformed the popular press in circulation uplift during the Olympic period, and the Daily Telegraph and i newspapers have enjoyed sales rises. But the hoped-for surge in advertising spend did not materialise. The free paper Metro did some of the best business with its arty wraparound covers sponsored by Adidas.

Once the games got underway the tier-one Olympic sponsors, especially McDonald's, struggled to convince the public of the depth of their support for a sporting extravaganza that is free of trackside advertising. "There's an element of the Olympic movement that's explicitly non-commercial," says Matthew Hook, chief strategy officer at Carat. "It's not a media spending frenzy in the way that a World Cup is."

After Twitter embarrassed itself by censoring criticism of its Olympic partner NBC, the micro-blogging site showcased its strength in providing instant interaction with the absorbing television content. "With every live event Twitter becomes more powerful," says Hook. It's a shame that NBC didn't recognise that power of the immediate and chose to show the opening ceremony five hours late in order to maximise primetime advertising.

After all the pre-Olympics hype, the memories most media executives will have of London 2012 will be shaped by the images they watched on the BBC, the one news organisation that produced a personal best.

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