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The BBC's Roger Mosey on planning an Olympic year

13 January 2012

The BBC’s director of London 2012, Roger Mosey, talks with Tim Dams about 
the unique challenges of broadcasting the UK’s biggest ever event in peacetime

If Roger Mosey is feeling the pressure from overseeing the BBC's coverage of the Olympic Games this year, he is not letting on. The BBC's director of London 2012 will not even confess to a sleepless night caused by the challenge of broadcasting the UK's biggest ever peacetime event.

It's all the more surprising when one considers the scale of the 2012 broadcasting offer. It is not just about the 17 days of Games coverage itself, but the 70-day UK torch relay as well as the 80-day Cultural Olympiad, which Mosey describes as "the biggest arts event in our lifetime." Mosey is also keen to stress that the Olympics are a very big part of what promises to be "a pretty amazing year" - one that also includes the four day Diamond Jubilee, Euro 2012 and "run of the mill events" like Wimbledon. "The key thing for us is the national narrative next year and putting it all together."

Focusing on the Games, Mosey says that the biggest single innovation of London 2012 is "simply the amount of choice that people will be able to have." The BBC - which takes most of its Games footage from the host broadcaster OBS – will provide live coverage of every single event, with up to 24 screens of sport available each day across BBC1, BBC3, via the red button and the BBC website.

"A pledge of 2012 is that we will show you everything from first thing in the morning to last thing at night," says Mosey, explaining that audiences will be able to "personalise" their Olympics viewing more than ever before. By comparison, the BBC aired about half of the host broadcaster content from the Beijing Olympics, which meant it was impossible to watch niche events such as fencing in long form.

London 2012 will also be the first Olympic Games to be captured in super hi-definition, with the footage broadcast on giant screens in Glasgow, Bradford and London. Some events will also be filmed in 3d (following in the footsteps of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, the first to be captured in 3d). And social media will also be a key component of the Games; the BBC recently announced via Twitter that Elbow was composing its Olympics theme tune.

But Mosey is in no doubt that the TV will still be the main focus. "We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that this will be a 42-inch screen HD Olympics for most people. Even though we’re very proud of all the innovation and it will be enormously valuable to the people that use it, people will want to watch the 100m final on a big screen in HD if they can."

Mosey will not be drawn, however, on the details about the size of the BBC's Olympic operation, no doubt fearing a press backlash over the corporation's budget and resources in this era of austerity. Budget and staff numbers will be published this year, he says. "The BBC sent 437 people to Beijing, which prompted the odd fainting fit in the more sensitive members of the press. NBC sent 2,850, the Germans over 700. We are very confident our numbers will be what we need to do the job." He does say that the BBC's budget for the Games has not been reduced as a result of the corporation's recently announced DQF cuts. "DQF is rightly about 'fewer, bigger, better', and people would expect the BBC to deliver the Olympics properly and not randomly cut costs. Reputationally, if we try to do big events on the cheap it wouldn't work."

Much of the BBC's effort will focus on customising the Olympics for a British audience, enhancing the neutral footage captured by the host broadcaster. As usual, it means additional BBC cameras and presenters at venues, as well as two BBC studio locations - one inside the Olympic Park, the other just outside.

This, says Mosey, is one of the more straightforward parts of the operation. "The thing we know how to do is the sport. The BBC has been televising the Olympics since 1948. The bits that we know less how to do are the torch relay, the cultural Olympiad and the news dimension of having the Games in the country."

The start of the relay ceremony in May is the moment that "Britain will get in the mood for what is going to come," says Mosey. But he wants to ensure that 100% of the country gets some value out of the BBC in 2012. "Sport reaches about 75-80% of the population. How you reach the other 20% is a challenge." That is where the Cultural Olympiad comes in, offering Shakespeare productions through to documentary events like Britain in a Day, a music festival in Hackney and the Proms. "Take the Proms," says Mosey. "There will be some people who don't want to watch the opening ceremony. If they can have the opportunity of seeing Daniel Barenboim conducting Beethoven's Ninth, that is giving them something special that night."

With such a range of output being lined up for the Olympics, it's little wonder that Mosey can confidently describe 2012 "as a year like no other."

Born in Bradford, educated at Bradford Grammar School and Wadham College Oxford (Modern History and Modern Languages)
Joins BBC Radio Lincolnshire as a reporter. Then joins network radio for The Week in Westminster, before working for Today as a producer and the BBC's New York bureau.
Editor of Radio 4's PM
Editor of Today programme
Controller of BBC Radio 5 Live
Head of BBC TV News
BBC director of sport
BBC director of London 2012

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