Olympic officials have blamed Twitter for a series of computer glitches that led to shambolic television coverage of the men’s road race yesterday afternoon. BBC presenters struggled to work out who was leading the nail biting race because GPS data containing the competitors’ progress was delayed.
Each competitor rides a bike with a GPS chip inside it which transmits vital data that charts their progress. But so many people turned out to see the race that the mobile network became overwhelmed.
IOC communications director Mark Adams called on spectators to think about how often they use their phones during popular events. “We don't want to stop people engaging in this by social media and sending updates,” he said, “But perhaps they might consider only sending urgent updates.“
Many viewers complained that BBC broadcasts had been riddled with factual mistakes, suffered from poor audio quality and missed key Team GB moments.
Viewers flocked to Twitter for a second day to berate the broadcaster over its coverage of the cycling, whilst others expressed concern that the male gymnastics team’s triumphant battle to reach the final – a first in 88 years – was not given enough prominence on BBC One
But the BBC defended its broadcasting stating that although the corporation has more cameras in place than ever before, much of its coverage still remains outside its control. Under the rules that govern how the Games are played, the broadcasting of the sporting events remains the responsibility of the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) who pool their images to be sent around the world.
As a partner broadcaster the BBC’s coverage is also syndicated whilst dedicated commentary units are in place to cover prominent Team GB events. But given the sheer scale of the Olympics they cannot cover every event and are still reliant on the OBS to fill the gap.
The road races, which extend over hundreds of kilometres, are an example of an event where the BBC relies on coverage from the OBS to cover the length of the course. But viewers of both the men and women’s races over the weekend complained that made incorrect announcements or were confused about which positions racers were in.
BBC sport hosts took to Twitter to apologise for the errors. “This is the Olympics,” said Gary Lineker. “The coverage is from a pool of broadcasters from across the world. I’m afraid that’s how it is regardless of who hosts”
Co-host Jake Humphrey added: “For those asking about more on-screen stats, graphics and info. None of it in the BBC control, we just take pictures provided to whole world.”
The OBS admitted that there were problems with some of the timings coming through to them, but they insisted the fault lay with Locog who are in charge of providing race data streams. “If that doesn’t come through or is slow, we’re at the mercy of the system,” said one insider.
Mark Parkman, a spokesman for OBS, insisted today’s women’s road race was not affected by the same data problems. : “Today was much better,” he said. “We received the data from Locog and its data provider and it made a great difference. “ However some spectators reported a lack of on-screen updates.
Coverage of the gymnastics on Saturday evening also drew angry responses online with viewers complaining that BBC One showed little of the men’s team making it to the finals. However a BBC spokesman insisted that the entire event could be seen on other BBC channels.
“The BBC carried extensive coverage of the gymnastics yesterday across BBC Three as well as in its entirety on bbc.co.uk/sport and the Red Button,’ he said.
Overall the BBC has dedicated 765 staff across 26 TV channels to provide more than 2,500 hours of footage over the Olympic period.