Aug. 2, 2012 -- In the four years since 2008's Olympic Games in Beijing, the world has seen an explosion of smartphone technology that has allowed mobile access to the Internet and social media like never before.
To put it in perspective, there were an estimated 139 million smartphones sold in 2008. IDC says that 144.9 million smartphones were sold worldwide in the first quarter alone in 2012. In 2011 491.4 million smartphone units were sold.
Consequently, this 24/7 global interconnection has caused more than a few stumbles at the London Games, the first Olympics caught in the Web of social media. And it's not just social media that's causing problems. Here are five ways that tech is leaving Games tangled up and blue.
Photo: Tom Daley of Great Britain takes a picture from the diving platform using the camera on his smartphone.
WIDE ANGLE: 2012 London Olympic Games
NBC's Tape-Delayed Coverage
Probably the biggest hurdle for U.S. viewers is NBC's decision to air tape-delayed events that have already finished in an effort to cash in on prime-time audiences.
NBC paid $1.18 billion for exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics on television and the Internet in the United States. All of which would be fine and dandy if London wasn't six hours ahead.
Irate viewers took to Twitter to express their rage and last week popularized the hashtag #NBCfail.
“The backlash is natural because we’re in a global communication environment. If you think that no one will find out information, that’s a little delusional,” Marcus Messner, a professor and social media expert at Virginia Commonweath University, told Discovery News.
One of Messner's main area's of study is the impact of social media on traditional news coverage.
NBC fired back at dissenters, touting their live Internet and cable feeds of the London Games. However, viewers hoping to stream the games on their TVs or computers needed expensive cable or satellite subscriptions that included NBC or CNBC packages. Even then, there have been reports of lost channels and poor streaming content. And if you can access the games, the coverage is heavily U.S.-focused.
NBC also reserved the rights to edit content. In their delayed coverage of the opening ceremonies, NBC came under fire when they chose to edit what was interpreted as a tribute to victims of London's 7/7 terrorists bombings in 2005. Their reason? The content wasn't relevant to U.S. audiences. Instead they aired Ryan Seacrest interviewing swimmer Michael Phelps.
“I think the opening ceremony was the most irritating thing," said Messner. "I’m surprised that NBC thinks that it can edit out and delay information without anyone noticing. That’s where the backlash on social media is happening.”
When it comes to the Olympics, social media sites have proven to be fertile grounds for rotten outcomes. Thanks to NBC's tape delay, if you want event results kept secret until the evening broadcast, I wouldn't recommend logging on to Twitter or Facebook unless you want results splashed in your face by zealous fans and media types who are more than happy to share.
Or maybe you like getting your news that way? Either way, it further shows how stuck in the mud NBC's tape-delayed coverage is.
“The viewing habits of television viewers is so fragmented," Messner said. "Today, we have a young generation -- the twenty-somethings -- they’re not tuning in at the 6:30 news in the evening. They want the news whenever it happens. On the other hand, however, there is a need for journalism that provides comprehensive coverage. An individual person with a cell phone can never do that.”
Some media outlets haven't even tried to keep up the facade of delaying content for prime time or tomorrow morning's paper. The New York Times and LA Times are among numerous news outlets that are blatantly tweeting the latest Olympic results with not even the slightest warning of a spoiler.
“Social media should not be a threat to media companies," he said. "They should fully adopt, run with it and use it as a promotional tool for their own coverage. NBC could be the one who is dominating all the coverage on social media.”
Still, Messner says, if anything, criticism over NBC's coverage of the Olympic Games will lead to changes in how the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics are broadcast.
“Things have to change," he said. "I think this will be one of the last Olympics where a television company is going to try and direct viewers to a certain time. The innovative thing would be to make everything on demand."
Data-hungry crowds are not just spoiling event results, they're spoiling actual events.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) actually asked Twitter users to stop gobbling up all the bandwidth needed for media coverage.
Fans were told on Sunday to avoid sending unessential texts and tweets because overloaded data networks were interfering with television broadcasts.
At a men's cycling race on Saturday, television commentators were unable to view the distance between leaders and the chasing pack because not enough data could get through to a GPS satellite navigation system that was following the cyclists.
An IOC spokesperson claimed that hundreds of thousands of texting and tweeting fans who lined the cycling route caused the network disruption.
"Of course, if you want to send something, we are not going to say 'Don't, you can't do it,' and we would certainly never prevent people," the IOC spokeperson told Reuters. "It's just -- if it's not an urgent, urgent one, please kind of take it easy."
Fans haven't been the only ones who have found social media sites, like Twitter, hard to resist. Athletes themselves are tweeting away and, in some cases, tweeting themselves into trouble.
For example, 23-year-old triple jumper, Paraskevi Papahristou, was kicked off Greece's Olympic team last week when she took to Twitter to post a disparaging remark about African immigrants in Greece. Once her removal was made official, Papahristo issued an apology on her Facebook page:
“I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account,” she wrote. “I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach on human rights.”
Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella (photo) was stripped of his Olympic accreditation after he posted a racist tweet against the South Koreans, whom his team lost to with a score of 2-1.
Computerized Scoring Takes a Beating
Anyone following amateur boxing at the Olympics knows that the computerized scoring system is taking a beating.
It requires five judges to press a button within a matter of seconds after a punch from one opponent has made contact with the other. The fighter with the most punches wins.
The system was introduced for the London Games in order to reduce the risk of judges manipulating bouts. Just such a thing happened at the 1988 Seoul Games when Roy Jones Jr., representing the United States, fought Park Si-hun of South Korea.
Jones Jr. landed 86 punches to Park Si-hun's 32, yet Park Si-hun won the gold. An investigation found that South Korean officials had wined and dined the judges.
But the new scoring system, introduced by boxing's governing body, the AIBA, has not improved Olympic boxing. Judges seem to hold back when a body punch or jab is thrown, causing frustration among the fighters.
After being disqualified, the Iranian heavyweight Ali Mazaheri left the ring in outrage and the Japanese bantam weight Satoshi Shimizu lost despite scoring six knockdowns against his opponent, Magomed Abdulhamidov from Azerbaijan. Shimizu openly cried after the lost.
Although it's no consolation for this year's boxing Olympiads, the computerized scoring system will be scrapped after the end of the London Games and replaced with a system that more closely matches professional boxing.
Photo: Satoshi Shimizu of Japan (R) in action with Isaac Dogboe of Ghana during their men's bantam weight.
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