Miah, A. & Jones, J. (2012) The Olympic Movement’s New Media Revolution: Monetization, Open Media & Intellectual Property, In: Wagg, S. & Lenskyj, H. Handbook of Olympic Studies, Palgrave, pp.274-288.
Conclusion: the risk of open media
It would be a mistake to characterise media change as an inherently risky enter- prise, not least because it has been taking place on a continual basis for the past 100 years.26 One might even say that change is a defining condition of media culture – or even that structural change rarely occurs, since very often tradi- tional mass media organisations are quickly able to appropriate new environ- ments to maintain their dominant position.27 However, the IOC is undergoing transformations to its management of media content, which may change the way that media organisations operate at an Olympic Games. To this end, it is conceivable that further transformation may jeopardise the present privileged position of the media and the value the Olympic movement accrues from such relationships. After all, there are no precedents from which the IOC may learn to feel assured of continuing their secure position, since there has been no other medium like the internet. Consider one simple principle that distinguishes it from other modes of communication: user-generated content. Never before has an individual had such a capacity to destabilise the information hierarchy than is afforded by the Internet – where a dynamic personal website can be more powerful than a static, institutional domain in terms of search recall in an engine like Google. This challenge to institutions is tangible and visible, but it exists regardless of whether an institution opens its media or not. Indeed, it should remind organisations that their audiences are now powerful figures in promoting their brand. In fact, resistance to change is more likely to result in the loss of credibility, as other individuals and organisations compete within the online space for alternative solutions to a brand that has been made more vulnerable for failing to change. This is particularly important in the context of a short-life brand like an Olympic Games, which must endeavour to quickly dominate search-and-find results in a very short time.
However, the more persuasive argument for opening up to an uncontrolled media platform involves taking into account how internet users migrate from one platform to another. Thus, if an institution or organisation is not present in a major social media environment like Facebook, it will reduce its contact time with its internet audience just because that is where the audience is located. This is made apparent when examining the number of user-generated groups about the Olympics that can be found in such environments. The IOC and the OCOGs of Vancouver 2010, London 2012, Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 have each taken to using Facebook as an official source of information beyond Games time, based on the successful uptake of the Facebook ‘pages’ interface during the Vancouver Games. Indeed, in 2009, the IOC appointed a Director of Social Media, working directly with its Communications team. Up until the point of the Olympic Congress discussion in 2009, there was nothing of this kind available within Facebook, though there were many pages that appeared to be endorsed by the Olympic movement, including clear breaches of intellectual property rights. Thus, the IOC’s transformation is a clear sign of its beginning to adapt to the demands of media change. However, it remains to be seen whether it is capable of monetising intellectual property through these channels. Again, we are seeing the organisation being placed in a position where it must share content as openly and freely as the existing user-generated groups.
This is why it is risky for an organisation to not adapt to the changing dig- ital sphere and develop an approach that permits the early adoption of new media environments. This is not to underestimate the dramatic implications of such a shift for institutions like the IOC. Indeed, for any large, transnational organisation, developing an adoption strategy that does not jeopardise the effectiveness of existing contractual arrangements is risky. However, there are yet further reasons why this is important to pursue. One may argue that, as web-based revenue increases, the Olympic proposition may become less attrac- tive if it fails to come packaged with new media rights benefits. To this end, it may be harder for the IOC to retain global sponsors if it fails to innovate in this area. Arguably, the IOC’s realisation of this was evident when deciding to encourage spectators to upload photos of sports competitions to the popular photo-sharing platform Flickr during the Vancouver 2010 Games. This was the first indication that change is afoot.
In the short term, the monetisation of Olympic assets is likely to have value particularly for the non-sporting dimensions of the Games, which currently do not fall within the obligations of media contractors. It is for this reason that the prospect of media change becomes even more complex and interesting, since it indicates a shift from branding just sports to branding cultural and social activ- ity. In such a future, the Olympic Games may no longer be characterised as a media event, but as a media festival, defined by the sharing of creative media content by engaged citizens with diverse political viewpoints.