Thursday, August 30, 2012

Paralympics opens to criticism & less coverage

The London Paralympic Games began Thursday following a rather low key opening ceremony, compared to the dazzling displays for the main Olympic Games. 

Commercial breaks

Broadcasting of the opening ceremony in the UK was also widely criticised after Channel 4, which won the bid for showing the games, constantly cut into the proceedings with commercial breaks.

But the criticism did not only target the broadcaster, whose output is significantly less than offered by the BBC throughout the Olympic games. There were angry voices raised concerning 'jokes' made on the social network Twitter which made light of people's disabilities.

No Google doodles

The Paralympic games have also received less prominence compared to the 2012 London Olympics. Throughout the Olympics the Internet search giant Google created a special doodle each day highlighting the dozens of sporting events. In addition the company also provided a schedule of events and a league table through a series of special pages.

However, no special doodles have yet appeared and there are no dedicated pages to help Internet users find what's on and who has so far achieved gold, silver or bronze.

Less games coverage

Coverage of the sporting events themselves is much reduced compared to the Olympics. While the BBC dedicated at least two channels to the games plus interactive services allowing the viewing of every sporting event Channel 4's effort is, by comparison, extremely poor.

Despite putting in a higher bid and winning the right to broadcast the Paralympic games, Channel 4 only has put aside one channel along with three interactive slots accessible via the red button for satellite viewers. Its dedicated homepage also fails in offering viewers full coverage.

The official Paralympic website does fill in some gaps, but still fails where the BBC excelled. The London 2012 site has a significant amount of information, but no live stream is available. There is an official YouTube channel, however it is blocked to viewers in some regions including the UK.

Channel 4 criticised

As for the opening ceremony Channel 4 drew strong criticism from many viewers after they continued to cut into programming with a stream of advertisements. While some understood that the channel had to make money through commercial sponsorship, there was disappointment as many expats and naturalised foreign nationals missed their Paralympic teams parade around the stadium.

The parade was already under way when the first commercial break followed the initial part of the opening ceremony. But within minutes and only seconds after China's athletes entered the arena Channel 4 cut away again. The intermittent breaks continued throughout the parade. Viewers missed a number of teams between Greece and Iceland, and a few that followed the ROK [South Korea] including Thailand which drew the ire of one Twitter user who exclaimed his wife had missed her home team.

Twitter was full of critical comments directed at the broadcaster. "Oh my God what the hell are Channel four doing?" one user, a TV producer and writer Guy Lambert who goes by the name @SohoGuy wrote.

" 'The Paralympics is here' Yes, I know Lloyds TSB, I was watching it til your c**ting advert came on," he lambasted minutes later, following an advertisement from the Paralympic sponsor.

Many felt the constant breaks came across as disrespectful both to the athletes and to disabled people in general. Marcus Agar, an International communications consultant, journalist & blogger , described the interruptions as "totally disrespectful" and questioned how, China, Greece and other countries felt at their being sidelined.

Channel 4's online services also failed many viewers with glitches and poor streaming. Video was constantly interrupted with messages claiming there was insufficient bandwidth, even for those with superfast broadband connections. When attempting to re-connect online viewers had to sit through several minutes of advertisements before they could continue watching the ceremony, only for the connection to fail yet again.

Sponsors criticised

The commercial interruptions could even backfire for those sponsoring the games. "I REALLY AM NOT going to buy blinking baked whatevers just because they've paid ££££££ to interrupt the #Paralympics #openingceremony," one angry ZoĆ« Dawes posted on Twitter.

"Good Lord Channel Four your coverage is absolutely terrible. Shame on Sainsbury's for sponsoring you. I hate them even more now," another Twitter user exclaimed.

Record audiences

The ceremony attracted some 11 million viewers in the UK according to some reports [BBC] though one reports suggested it was as little as 8 million [Guardian].

And while many enjoyed the show in general, many of Britain's papers were scornful of Channel 4's coverage. The commercial broadcaster, which paid £9 million for the Games' rights, faced a deluge of criticism from angry viewers who complained about its poor prime-time telecast. In defence of its showing advertisements during the event, a spokesman said on its official Twitter feed, "If you're asking about ads, we're showing less [sic] than usual but as a commercially funded bcaster [sic] they allow us to show events like the Paras." 

Commentary slated

As well as criticism over Channel 4's decision not to drop advertising throughout the show, there were scornful remarks concerning the commentary, particularly from veteran news anchor Jon Snow, who came under fire for his use of "war" facts during introductions of countries during the ceremony, entitled Enlightenment, rather than information about the athletes or their disabilities [Telegraph / Daily Mail].

Not all papers were scathing of Channel 4 however. A blog in London's Metro newspaper suggested people needed to "get real" and understand the financial constraints of a commercial broadcaster.

"Inspirational" & "Dazzling"

As for the show itself, much of the media and general public offered praise and applause. Beginning with some words from Professor Stephen Hawking and followed by acrobatics, musical interludes and nods to Sir Isaac Newton, the ceremony was variously described as "inspirational", "dazzling", and a "truly memorable show" [Guardian / Telegraph / Independent / Mirror / Express / BBC].

Less TV coverage

Times columnist Caitlin Moran expressed puzzlement that some countries weren't showing the actual games themselves. "Apparently the US isn't showing the Paralympics. Literally can't think of a single reason why they're not. Totally baffled," she wrote on Twitter.

The broadcasting of the Paralympics will be much reduced in the US, however according to LOCOG the US Olympic Committee will be creating original video content for the US Paralympics You Tube channel as well as partnering with NBC Universal and the International Paralympic Committee.

Nonetheless the number of broadcasters showing the Paralympics around the world is significantly less than seen for the Olympics, and many are subscription television services.

While the profile of the Paralympics has been raised, there is still a long way to go before disabled athletes achieve the same recognition and level of respect as their able-bodied competitors.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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