Olympic TV data overburdened by too many tweets

Though Twitter was expected to be the Olympics’ social media darling, organisers have asked viewers to limit their sending of non-urgent tweets after overburdened data networks disrupted television coverage over the weekend.

BBC presenters covering men’s cycling on 28 July were embarrassingly left out of the loop as updates from GPS navigation systems in the competing athletes’ bikes did not transmit information about timing and positions in the road race. The coverage of the race was also marred by poor sound and graphics.

The network acknowledged the "appalling coverage" after viewers complained that commentators mistakenly said the 30th, 31st, and 32nd cyclists had nabbed the bronze, fourth, and fifth places.

The disruption in transmitting data was the result of hundreds of thousands of fans tweeting alongside the course, said International Olympic Committee communications director Mark Adams.

"It's a network issue, and it is that which we are working on,” Adams said. "From my understanding, One network was oversubscribed, and [the Olympic Broadcasting Service] are trying to spread the load to other providers. We don't want to stop people engaging in this by social media but perhaps they might consider only sending urgent updates.”

A spokesperson for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) countered that there were no problems with the results of the race.

“There are fixed timing points at the start and finish line, as well as one at Box Hill which Locog provides. These worked well and the result and timing of the race are not in doubt,” she said.

The London Games have been declared the first social media Olympics, with research suggesting, unsurprisingly, that the Games would be the most digital in history. Twitter launched a dedicated Olympics page in anticipation of the online fervour. The page curates top tweets from athletes, coaches, and the general public, as well as NBC commentators.

But the micro-blogging site’s popularity - with 9.66 million opening ceremony-related tweets sent on the first day of the event, which is more than the total tweets during the entire Beijing Olympics four years ago - has apparently had unintended consequences.

For more information about the measures that network providers have implemented to ensure good coverage during the Olympics, read our in-depth feature.