Aside from the gold medalists, the real winners this Summer have been TV viewers, the BBC and Channel 4.
Summer, especially August, is traditionally a time broadcasters struggle to pull in big audience numbers, as people head outside for the sunshine and go on holiday. And who remembers all the doom and gloom surrounding the games before it started with security and ticket problems? It may be a distant memory now but expectation was pretty low. Even before the opening ceremony started there were real concerns about watching a fake grass meadow for hours on end from a lot of viewers.
But for me one of the defining moments was when the giant chimneys began to grow out of the turf and the Olympic stadium became an industrial revolution that produced five steel rings. With the other elements like James Bond and the Queen it was amongst the best things I have ever seen on TV. And around the country, family and friends joined together – a total of 26.9million viewers – to witness this incredible show. The Isles Of Wonder ceremony certainly helped to whet people’s appetite and soon fans had TVs on in offices and were going to parks together to watch events.
The other trump card for the BBC was their dedication to televising Olympic events, offering several live sporting events at the same time. It meant, for example, that anyone with a Freeview box was able to create their own timetable and their own viewing habits. Millions did so, and this is surely a sign of things to come in the future. The BBC have already said they will do something similar at Rio 2016 and I would expect more of the same at big events like the Glastonbury festival next year.
For me, I have to admit, it was also TV that made me feel very emotional. The montages of victory brought a tear to my eye, and in particular Super Saturday and the gold medals of Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah left a lump in my throat. BBC host John Inverdale’s interview with rowers Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase, where he could barely get his words out as they broke down over failing to win their race, will also live long in the memory.
In terms of presenters, I think it was definitely an Olympics full of Girl Power. Clare Balding now seems to be everyone’s favourite presenter and can do no wrong, whilst I loved Gaby Logan’s light and fun show in the evenings which packed lots of highlights and interviews in without being too serious. She also had great guests including Carl Lewis and David Beckham during the run.
Channel 4 then took up the baton and took over for the Paralympics and it must be said that many feared their coverage would be poor and look amateur compared to the Beeb. We knew it would be different and perhaps more edgy, but I think most people have been pleasantly surprised by the channel’s take on the sport. Ratings most nights have more than three million, well above what the channel can normally expect. David Weir’s three gold medals were brilliant TV moments, as good as anything the BBC screened in terms of tension and emotion. And although the Oscar Pistorius blade row was covered a little over keenly by Channel 4, it certainly helped make the Paralympics amongst the most talked about things on TV.
As I write, Channel 4 have just announced that Jonnie Peacock’s 100m T44 win on Thursday night has pulled in 6.3million, a huge audience for Channel 4 and proof that families and friends are still getting together for a prolonged Summer of sport. The other element of Channel 4’s coverage that has been talked about a lot on Twitter and other social media is The Last Leg. The late night show fronted by comedian Adam Hills with Josh Widdicombe and disabled presenter Alex Brooker pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable to say about the Paralympics. But it also voices what many people are thinking and answers questions they are not sure they can ask.
I think it has been a real success and is exactly the sort of show and the kind of angle Channel 4 should be taking to make the Paralympics coverage different from what the BBC did last month. Don’t be surprised if Adam Hills gets his own late night Channel 4 series off the back of it.
The two channels are both celebrating Sports events that have transformed their schedules and their viewing figures.
Overall it is a summer that made Britain proud and a nation of square eyed fanatics. Despite the rise of other viewing platforms, there is life in the old telly box yet.