From the comfort of our living rooms, racing to tweet live updates and results of the Games will be the most exercise any of us will get these London Olympics. There are new pressures that come with the 2012 Games, not just because Channel Nine have snatched the broadcasting rights from Seven after 20 years, but because the Twitter Olympics are among us.

With social media having taken the world by storm over the past few years, free-to-air television is expected to form only a small fraction of how the community will get their Olympic fix. Nine’s online coverage of the games began long before the torch was lit, with their on and off-air team already tweeting the lead up to the Games from London. So just how will Twitter affect the ratings?

At the conclusion of the 2008 Games, 16.5 million Australians had watched at least part of Seven’s Olympic coverage. But this Olympics will be different. Seven’s traditional broadcast of the games heavily focused on leading up to the main events and the stories behind our athletes, meaning delayed airing of events until prime time. The pressure of needing live, up-to-date information that social media has created means that Nine will be trying to find a balance between the live coverage of Australian athletes’ events, while still building the story and spirit through their commentary and pre-event coverage.

But for their $120 million bid to be worth it, Nine needs at least 17 million viewers over the course of the games. Their scheduled coverage consists of 14.5 hours of live coverage daily, and the main events and highlights repeated from 9-11am and 4-6pm. They also have 3D highlights coverage from 11-4 each day.

Nine and Foxtel have also secured the rights to mobile and internet coverage, but will social media help the broadcast and work hand in hand, or will it work against the struggling network? Social media could work in their favour in this instance, with producers and on-air personalities adding extra content and a behind-the-scenes view of the games that could help promote their coverage. Nine have also released their iPad App for the Games, Jump-In, that links to a user’s Facebook or Twitter and provides a free-to-air guide, updates, reminders, Olympic news and medal tallies. The app has the potential to bridge online users with their on air coverage and target a wider audience, or again work against them and reduce the need to watch the on air coverage to find out event results.

Jump-In represents Ch9’s first foray into the world of two-screen apps (Jump-In is a competitor of Ch7’s Fango), and while the content is decidedly different it’s not a patch on Foxtel’s London 2012 app (though the latter is intended to be an event-only fixture whereas Jump-In was rushed to market for the Olympics and is intended to change to be more network generic in months to come).

The Twitter Olympics could work against the broadcaster, as it will give fans the opportunity to join forces and build an online Games community. With Twitter coverage giving fans the opportunity to gain more of an international perspective of the Games, it will give the audience unbeatable and unprecedented access to other broadcasters around the world, along with those attending the games. Users can now also directly contact the Olympians who are on the social networking site – making it more appealing and getting to hear a
first hand account and new perspective, and for fans to show their support.

But will users really focus on the actual events and results, or is it forcing the perspective of the games to change? We all know that Twitter is often used to critique coverage or commentary of an event, rather than the event itself. With these Summer Olympics being the first covered by Nine in years, the pressure is definitely on Nine to prove themselves and Twitter may well be used to critique their coverage.

Has Twitter enhanced or altered the way you’re watching the Olympics? Tell us by leaving a comment below…