Switching channels is making some Rio 2016 Olympics viewers hopping mad

The BBC’s mostly excellent coverage of Rio 2016 has been marred by the new sport of channel-hopping. And Ben Dowell is one of many viewers who are not enjoying it...

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There has been so much to enjoy about the Olympics it’s hard to know where to start.

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All those Team GB medals, those hilarious interviews (take a bow Irish rowers Gary and Paul O’Donoghue), Andy Murray’s gold medal and the sight of Usain Bolt proving beyond question that he is the greatest Olympian in history have made this a sporting event to live long in the memory.

But one thing that has been slightly making me – and other viewers – a little cross is all the channel-hopping we’ve had to do when the BBC’s live coverage is interrupted by scheduled programmes (usually the news).

And I am not alone.

The BBC has provided comprehensive coverage of the Olympics, with live coverage across BBC1, BBC2 and BBC4 at all hours, day or night. Promising that a moment will never be missed, the Beeb has Red Button coverage and almost constant live streaming on the BBC Sport website.

But that did not cut much ice with me or many other viewers irritated by the need to jump between the main channels, often in the middle of the action – Andy Murray’s deciding quarter-final tie break being just one example.

Another viewer was caught out during Becky James’ silver medal triumph in the Keirin event.

So, why the constant channel hopping?

The main problem spots come at 6pm and 10pm, when the BBC1 news bulletins air. BBC News has been left in its traditional BBC1 slot rather than moved to BBC2, meaning any live Rio action has to switch sharply over to another channel to get out of the way of the news.

The odd thing is, the BBC doesn’t have to do this – the broadcaster is under no obligation to air the news on BBC1 at 6pm and 10pm.

As part of its agreement with the Government over its charter, the BBC is merely required to broadcast news on BBC1 “in what appears to the Trust to be an appropriate manner between peak viewing times and other times” (it’s on page 22 of this document by the way). The rather lax commitment to news is also also outlined by the BBC Trust in its service licence reviews. 

So theoretically BBC1 (or BBC2) could be a dedicated Olympics Channel with no channel-hopping required, and the news shown on the alternative service.

But according to BBC sources, the belief at the Corporation is that is has a commitment towards other members of the audience who don’t care for events in Rio – and a large chunk of the audience expect the news to air on BBC1 at 6pm and 10pm and would be annoyed if they moved.

Does the same hold true for EastEnders? It means Olympic coverage moves to BBC2 from 6pm for the news, then jumps back to BBC1 at 6.30pm. At 8pm, it moves to BBC2 again, this time making way for EastEnders, only to hop back to BBC1 at 8.30pm.

These are prime evening viewing slots, with some of the best sporting action on display – at least for people who aren’t able to stay awake into the small hours. It’s not surprise that people are frustrated.

The BBC declined to reveal the number of complaints it has had about channel-hopping, explaining: “The BBC is bringing audiences comprehensive Olympic coverage with more than 3,000 hours of live sporting action across TV, radio, online and digital.  BBC1 is a mixed genre channel and both the News and EastEnders will continue throughout Rio 2016, and all channel switches to BBC2 and BBC4 are clearly signposted on air by presenters.”

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So Olympic channel switching is just something we’ll have to put up with. Ah well, at least we’ll win gold in the brand new Channel Hop, Skip and Jump event come 2020.