Slim volume that puts olympic media in new light

Henk Erik Meier
Institut für Sportwissenschaft, Sozialwissenschaften des Sports
Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster

Andrew C. Billings & Marie C. Hardin (red) The Global Impact of Olympic Media at London 2012 89 pages, hardbound. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-1-138-78991-3
Andrew C. Billings & Marie C. Hardin (red)
The Global Impact of Olympic Media at London 2012
89 pages, hardbound.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2015
ISBN 978-1-138-78991-3

In light of the recent decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to award the broadcasting rights for Europe to Discovery and to abandon a long-term partnership with public service broadcasters, this small volume, edited by renowned scholars Andrew C. Billings and Marie C. Hardin, should definitely attract the attention of European scholars. The four chapters touch upon the question of how media presentation, reception and effects of the Olympics might change.

The first chapter written by Tang Tang and Roger Cooper on the multiplatform media use of Olympic content is highly interesting, as multiplatform use in the case of London 2012 accounted for an unprecedented media consumption of the Olympics. The fact that media consumption in particular in the U.S. market increased in spite of the notable time difference might account for the IOC’s decision to enter a partnership with Discovery in order to promote multiplatform use. The chapter provides an excellent review of relevant literature concerning media consumption of the Olympics, followed by an examination of multiplatform use in the U.S., demonstrating a positive relationship between Olympics viewing on TV, web and mobile devices. Not surprisingly, motivations, preferences, audience availability and media use routines predicted significantly Olympic viewing on the distinct platforms. Yet, the authors demonstrate also that web and mobile viewing differs from traditional TV consumption. The latter is less selective and much more driven by social motivations, that is, consuming the Olympics together with family and friends. Moreover, the study found that being a sports fan and demographics did not predict Olympics viewing at any medium. What mattered instead were structural characteristics, that is, audience availability and timeliness of supply, and the unique nature of the Olympics. These interesting results raise a number of questions concerning the future of Olympics viewing in Europe as the IOC’s deal with Discovery will challenge audience routines substantially.

The second chapter, written by Shuhua Zhou, Bin Shen, Cui Zhang and Xin Zhong on the use of the London Olympics for public diplomacy, employs a quite different framework. The authors provide a highly instructive introduction into public diplomacy. Given the fact that many governments intend to use mega-events for purposes of national branding, the results of the content analysis presented are of utmost interest since the authors demonstrate that Britain failed to achieve its aims concerning a national rebranding. Britain succeeded in getting positively portrayed for heritage, creativity, sport and music. However, efforts to promote Britain’s innovation, technology, entrepreneurship, knowledge and green initiative received only lukewarm attention. Thus, notwithstanding limitations regarding generalizability, the study calls policy-makers’ trust in the efficacy of national branding by mega-events into question.

However, efforts to promote Britain’s innovation, technology, entrepreneurship, knowledge and green initiative received only lukewarm attention.

The study conducted by Qiaolei Jiang on celebrity athletes, soft power and national identity addresses a very specific topic by examining the construction of Chinese identity in postcolonial Hong Kong. However, as governments try to employ sports for creating symbols and images of national unity, this chapter comes with broader relevance. The study employs textual analysis in order to take account of all aspects of the text in order to identify the ideological work they perform. Given the complex character of the method it is unfortunate that the author does not present a penetrating discussion of the procedures performed in the study. Three dominant themes of the textual discourses were identified: national heroes, rags-to-riches figures and stars in the entertainment industry. The chapter proceeds to analyze these themes separately based on an in-depth analysis of selected text segments. Concerning Hong Kong’s national identity, the article supports the idea that sportive nationalism can be used to promote national identity but points also to a complex interplay between the national and the local impetus. Thus, the author concludes that it can be considered doubtful whether soft power symbols will suffice to sustain the development of Hong Kong’s inhabitants’ national identity.

The last chapter written by Andrew Billings and a number of co-authors continues and expands Billings’ previous work on the relationship between Olympics viewing and different forms of national identification in the context of the Olympics. The article investigates these issues based on surveys conducted in six different countries and uses different scales for patriotism, nationalism, internationalism and smugness. The results derived are extremely interesting. First of all, the authors show that Olympic media consumption is not related to internationalism. Thus, as claimed by proponents of banal nationalism theory, the Olympics appear to serve, and indeed to reinforce, different forms of national identification. However, the study illustrates the advantages of a comparative approach. Whereas there is a clear relationship between viewing Olympic media and various conceptions of national identity, the relationship proved to be not linear. Moreover, there was substantial and complex inter-country differences; the U.S. respondents scored highest in terms of smugness and were least concerned about global fairness while Bulgarians proved to be most nationalistic.

Thus, the volume includes a number of interesting, albeit theoretically and methodologically quite diverse contributions. The outstanding quality of the work presented is beyond doubt. However, it could be argued, on the one hand, that a connecting thread seems to be missing, all the more as the introductory remarks provided by the editors were rather short and there is no concluding note. On the other hand, the volume reflects the current scholarship in the field, as media coverage and consumption of Olympics has given rise to a highly diversified academic discourses employing different theoretical lenses and methodological approaches. Scholars interested in one of the topics addressed should definitely consult the relevant chapters. The authors present excellent literature reviews and make relevant and innovative contributions. However, the volume inspires two methodological remarks by this reviewer: First, the chapters illustrate the advantages of comparative research. Reception of the Olympics seems to be highly dependent on local contexts, which should remind scholars that generalized statements should be made with caution. Second, given the fact that there exist quite elaborate methods for measuring TV consumption, the reliance on simple binary or ordinary variables might not be convincing in order to account for multiplatform use. Researchers need to develop more sophisticated metrics in order to account for changes in the consumption of the Olympics.

Copyright © Henk Erik Meier 2015

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