The London 2012 Olympics have been quite the mixed bag for Channel 9. They’ve received criticism for the quality of the commentary, the freneticism with which they’ve flipped between events, blanket advertising for Ch9’s programs coming “After the Olympics”, and the lack of alternate coverage on GEM/GO!/their 3D channel. Then there’s the one gold medal they had to celebrate for the first 6 days of the games given all the promo spots they allocated that effectively went begging (and don’t even start on the lacklustre performance/lack of features of their second screen app “Jump-In” – iPad only, naturally).

To Nine’s credit, they’ve worked very hard on doing the very best that they could within the limitations they’ve faced – Eddie McGuire’s inability to sound enthused aside. The magazine-style format show we’ve seen nightly has delivered conversations with Olympic greats like Linford Christie & Daley Thompson, interviewed medallists and ensured that Aussie achievements are celebrated in a manner appropriate for the sports-mad nation that we are, while still enjoying the strength and variety of the competition (as long as that ‘variety’ was filtered through green and gold eyes).

Simulcasting content on GEM has been a particular sore point for fans. Ch9, to their credit, haven’t made a song and dance in responding to these cries as their hands are tied when following the letter of the ACMA-monitored law that is the Government’s anti-siphoning list. Yes, they could have (and may have) applied for special dispensation to show alternate coverage on a digital multi-channel from the office of Senator Conroy, what we’re left with in this digital age does leave the viewing public asking serious questions about how we consume future Olympics on television.

Therein lies the rub – when the 2016 Rio Olympics roll around we will be in a very different free-to-air television environment. We’ll have had no analog television for at least two years; the anti-siphoning list will have been reviewed at least twice by that time (if it exists by then at all); and the commercial networks will have developed their stable of channels such that the three or four they have now could have doubled (or even trebled). And what of the internet or subscription television?!

Foxtel’s broadcast by comparison has been largely a triumph. 8 channels, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week over the Olympic period PLUS the tie-in with their spectacular iPad app allowing subscribers to the package watch all 8 channels on their tablet has been the perfect addition to their service. The strength of what they offered surely places them in a unique position to secure the rights soley (they succeeded in partnership with Nine for this Summer/Winter Olympics combo) as soon as the local laws allow.

If there’s one thing we can all be thankful about as participants in the great Australian sport of armchair criticism – at least we’re getting most/all events LIVE. In the United States the broadcast rights holder NBC delayed the opening ceremony and critical events such as the 100m final to suit their prime time schedule. In a day an age when publishing content first is king, saving the broadcast of a global event like the Olympics flies in the face of anything but a traditional and now antiquated programming mentality.

Channel 9 have done the best that they can with the lot they have. They don’t have the depth and tradition of experienced commentators they can trot out at will within their stable of network stars -as others may who’ve been calling competition at every event for the past six Olympics. They are caught in an awkward middle period of the changing face broadcast free-to-air television and its integration with online delivery/social media. More thought was required to what was delivered to us for these games but, on the whole, you’d have to offer Ch9 a conceded pass.

Whoever secures the broadcast rights for the 2016 Olympics – and it may be the last time it’s available on free-to-air television – will be in an even more difficult position unless they come prepared. Start thinking and planning now. While the commercial realities of broadcasting an Olympics are obvious, who’s thinking about their customer base and what they want? Do viewers even matter anymore?