Chapter VII: Media & Communications

Excerpt from Chapter:

“A defining feature of the modern Olympic movement has been its relationship with the media, particularly television broadcasters, which have been involved with the Olympics almost since Berlin 1936.

As noted in the previous chapter, the prominence of the media in the IOC’s economic infrastructure places each partner in a very powerful position. On the one hand, the funds derived from the Olympic Games broadcast contracts provide the Olympic movement with a stable and growing income stream. Alternatively, broadcasters are able to capitalize on their purchase and build their organizations through revenue generated by advertising. Nevertheless, despite this mutually beneficial arrangement, the agreements may compromise the integrity of the Olympic values and, as a result, the Olympic programme may have become the handmaiden of television broadcasters. Indeed, since the mid-1980s, there have been concerns that television schedules have influenced the athletics schedule, superseding the athletes’ preferences or needs (Min 1987).

There have been various approaches to researching the media’s role at the Games, yet there is consensus that the modern Olympics must be understood as a ‘media event’ (Dayan and Katz, 1992). Dayan and Katz describe the Olympic Games as an example of the ‘festive viewing of television’ (p.1) and go on to claim that the significance of the Olympics can be explained as a ‘symbolic transposition of political conflict’, which alludes to our earlier chapter on why the Games must be made sense of as a political project. In this sense, the media’s role in reporting the Games is not just a matter of communicating sports events to the world, but is, as Moragas (1992) describes ‘the promotion and selection of values developed through a complex communication production process – signs, rituals, images, mise en scène, advertising, information’ (p.17). As such, the value of the media for the Olympics is not just in generating income. Rather, it is ‘the principal cultural – and politic – responsibility of the Olympic Games staging process’ (op. cit.), a view borne out of the fact that most of the world’s audience engages with the Games via the media. To this end, the Olympic Games may certainly be understood as spectacles, on Kellner’s (2003) definition of how they ‘embody contemporary society’s basic values, serve to initiate individuals into its way of life, and dramatize its controversies and struggles, as well as its modes of conflict resolution’ (p.2). Yet, they also go beyond this and are complex cultural practices, composed of games, spectacle, rites, festival and myth-making (MacAloon 1993)

In this context, the present chapter articulates the breadth and complexity of the Olympic media, considering their role at the Games, while also arguing that change is afoot within the elite sports media industry. We begin by exploring how the media has evolved within the Olympics, considering some of the historical context to the present agreements between the media and the IOC. Subsequently, we explore the media structures at the Olympic Games and assess what kind of media work occurs around them, beyond the sports competitions. Finally, we consider what may be described as the Olympic digital revolution, defined by the rise of new and social media.