For the Olympics, it seems like gold for Twitter and silver for Facebook as fans are forgoing  blogging in favour of interactive social media.

At Beijing in 2008, blogs were the main game, but now coverage of, and interaction with, London’s Games will be Twitter- and Facebook-centric, says Jennifer Wilson, director of multiplatform digital production company Project Factory. “At the Beijing Olympics, Twitter wasn’t the phenomenon it is now,” she said.

Four year ago, Twitter had about 6 million users while Facebook had 100 million. Today, Twitter has more than 140 million users and Facebook has 900 million.

The Australian Olympic Committee and individual athletes are now using Twitter to interact with fans, and hashtags such as #London21012 and #theaussiesarecoming are trending.

Swimmer Leisel Jones is the latest to trend after the public outrage over News Ltd and Fairfax stories concerning her physical appearance. “For those knocking Leisel Jones, get your medals out then go have a good hard look at yourself in the mirror,” said one disgruntled fan.

Twitter is also getting athletes into trouble, with Greek athlete Voula Papachristou pulled from the games after a racist tweet.

Twitter has become a fan base and vehicle for mass communication. Such developments reflect audience expectation for instantaneous coverage and a multiplicity of views linked with various social networks, explained Wilson.

“With Twitter now going from Twitter itself into Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media — and with the rise of tools like Spotify — I think we will expect our coverage to come from Twitter and then be turned into a story. The best blogs are considered writing, and we’re at the point where we expect things instantaneously,” she said.

Monash University associate professor in communications and media studies Brett Hutchins says the 2012 Olympics will mark the first “full-scale multiplatform digital Games” — underpinned by the expansion of broadband and wireless internet, and the expansion of multimedia capacities.

“It’s the scale of social networking that’s the main difference, and not only the scale but the multimedia capacities — photos [and] videos taken with smart phones … It’s the first time you’ll be able to follow the Olympics not only across television, radio and newspapers but also Facebook, Twitter [and] Pinterest,” he said. “You’ve got to see it in terms of a media ecology … You’re trying to create integrated links between your TV offering, your website and your social networks.”

This media evolution is particularly evident in Foxtel’s coverage — which holds the Australian viewing rights with Nine. It will provide an eight-channel offering to existing sports subscribers — anchored by Eddie McGuire and former Olympic sprinter Matt Shirvington. Molly Meldrum will also be filing on his favourite London haunts.

The network will offer an iPad and Android tablet app with access to all channels, catch-up sessions and a television guide. Hutchins says the marriage of ratings and digital technology is about “valuing attention”. “It’s all about demonstrating the fact that the people advertisers want are paying attention to the networks,” he said.

Channel Nine will offer 14.5 hours of live coverage per day with 12 commentators as well as a team in London. Nine is also launching the Jump-in iPad app linked to social media and streaming Olympic tweets. It will feature a medal tally and TV guide alongside traditional news photos and video.

In addition, the network is developing a single point of entry for advertisers to gain greater access to multiscreen viewing habits and measure program sponsorship, brand exposure and sponsorship effectiveness.

Rival Yahoo!7 will be using its Fango social television app to ensure TV audiences remained engaged with programming rather than distracted by smart phone and tablet content.

Channel Ten is also vying for a piece of the Olympic pie as it sends the entire Ten Late News team to London. And not to be left out, The Project will receive daily reports from its Games correspondent HG Nelson.

Despite broadcast rights preventing events streaming live on the internet, websites will do their best to offer a multimedia fix. Fairfax and News Limited’s tabloids will have dedicated blogs — fitted with news, videos, interviews, live tweets, virtual medal tallies, links and quizzes on the Games. The Australian has gone one step further, sending a team headed by Nicole Jeffery, Wayne Smith and Peter Wilson to London as they report back on their blog.

Ninemsn has capitalised on social media with social games allowing fans to compete for cash prizes by watching videos sharing links, commenting on stories, playing trivia and rating photos.

So with the glut of offerings, how will radio fare? Luckily, broadcasters have drawn a particularly friendly schedule. Time zones and the organisation of popular races to suit European and American audiences mean main events such as athletics and swimming finals will be broadcast in mornings and evenings while most are in commute.

Out of rights-holders ABC and Macquarie Radio, ABC seems to hold the edge with a nine-member Grandstand Sport Olympic crew streaming commentary online. ABC will also have a dedicated digital statio — ABC London 2012 — broadcasting continuously.

Peter Fray

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