Last week, after 18 years, Mark Coyle, online editor of BBC London 2012, left the corporation for pastures new. After a busy 18 months gearing up to the London Games, and then covering the Olympics live, it’s understandable that he plans three weeks' holiday, including a Harley Davison drive down route one, in the coming weeks.
This summer saw record numbers delivered to BBC Sport online, with a global audience of 55 million – 37 million of which came from the UK – and 106 million requests for video content across all BBC platforms, made up in large by the 24 live streams run during the Olympics.
The busiest day of Olympics coverage, the day Tour De France winner Bradley Wiggins clinched gold, exceeded the traffic levels for the entire BBC coverage of the FIFA European Championships just weeks earlier.
So it’s no wonder that Coyle admits his pride of both the scale of online coverage of the Games, and the team that he led in delivering it.
“It’s been the highlight of my career, and the pride that I take of having led a team through it is something that makes me smile every time I think about it,” he tells The Drum over a cup of coffee in Glasgow’s Merchant City, having returned home from his time in London. He is set to return to the capital for his final week at the BBC, as coverage of the Olympics is reviewed and lessons learned are taken forward.
When asked about his initial thoughts on taking up the role, he says: “I don’t think I appreciated the sheer scale of the Olympic Games. I knew there were huge expectations of the BBC as a whole. We worked hard to make sure that we not only met, but exceeded the expectations.
“We tried where possible to be practical, but we also tried to maximise our imaginations in what we were trying to do. We were almost trying to think up the impossible, but knowing that there would come a time when we would have to deliver significant coverage and we couldn’t afford to fail.”
The coverage generated by his team over the 70 day long torch relay, the Olympics and the Paralympics, Coyle believes, managed to make the audience feel as though they were a part of proceedings. In terms of the torch relay, this meant making people hundreds of miles away from the torch feel involved, he explains.
“They could interact with it through social media, stop the video feed and rewind it if they thought they’d spotted someone they knew and share bits of the video. The general reaction to the torch relay was just wonderful.”
As to the scale of the BBC’s plans, the decision to live stream 24 events at once online was very much a sign of the digital age, and one that is likely to take the BBC's future live event coverage forward in leaps and bounds.
“When we started to think about what we would do, it was clear that video was the big thing for a number of reasons, the main one being that we were the UK rightsholding broadcaster. To use a term I don’t particularly like – we really wanted to sweat the assets. We came up with the view that we would do that by making as much of it live as we possibly could, hence we came to the 24 streams proposition.
“With that came the ‘Never miss a moment’ strap line which was our central target, to make the video work as hard as possible for us, wherever it was being consumed or delivered.”
“It was a genuine multi-platform experience and, in a large part, the UX experience was right,” he elaborates. “What we also did very well, was that we were able to contextualise things. So you could watch the video, go into a guide on that sport, and get videos explaining how to play the sport, all while watching the action.”
It was reported that former director general Mark Thomson’s letter to those in charge of delivering coverage of the Games suggested expanding their heavy focus from Team GB to the other nationalities involved. Coyle claims this was never directed at his online team, and did not alter its strategy in the slightest.
He also denies BBC budget cuts as having any impact on the project.
As to what could have been improved, Coyle says that he would only highlight “one or two of the user journeys”.
“I don’t think that there were any single failures, just things that we would look back on and say ‘that didn’t quite work as well as we’d hoped.”
On the legacy left by the work of the BBC London 2012 team, Coyle highlights coverage of live events such as Glastonbury as being perfect to take on much of the infrastructure, and admitted conversation about the coverage of Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games cropped up when looking at lessons to be garnered.
“Having just delivered 24 video streams, it’s not hard to see how that could be adapted to see how that could be used to cover a six-stage event or the World Cup in 2014, or Glasgow 2014. There’s a lot of work to be done on looking at the development of the infrastructure both technically and editorially to meet these big events coming our way.”
And so where to now, other than for a holiday in the States? Coyle admits to not knowing, however he does like the idea of working more closely to sport in an online environment in the future, wherever that may be.