Paralympic Games
29 August - 9 September

No. 13: Channel 4 creates a blueprint for commercial Paralympic broadcasting

With an innovative marketing campaign and top-class Paralympic programming, Channel 4 ensured record audiences and a change in perceptions towards people with an impairment 19 Dec 2012
Channel 4 presenters
ⒸChannel 4

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When Channel 4 was awarded the London 2012 Paralympic Games UK broadcast rights in 2010 they promised a fresh, innovative approach that would change attitudes of Paralympic sport and reach new and bigger audiences.

What they delivered was a blueprint for how a commercial broadcaster should screen the Paralympic Games.

Here’s how they did it.

Award winning marketing campaign

To raise awareness about its London 2012 coverage, Channel 4 launched its biggest marketing campaign in its history. The centrepiece was a sensational, hard-hitting and goosebump-inducing 90-second TV commercial that introduced the ‘Superhumans’ and opened up the Paralympic Games to a whole new audience.

On the evening it was launched, the advert – shot over 16 days and portraying British Paralympians as incredible and extraordinary athletes – was aired concurrently across 78 different UK channels at 9pm. Supported by 2,000 poster sites across the UK, the campaign soon won worldwide acclaim and has since won multiple awards.

“The ‘Superhumans’ campaign really makes people think,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron at the time of the launch, whilst Campaign magazine, who recently awarded Channel 4 the prestigious ‘Campaign of the Year’ award, said: "Channel 4's 'Meet the Superhumans' campaign changed the way that people in this country view disability – hopefully forever."

Public Enemy’s 2007 ‘Harder Than You Think’ tune acted as the soundtrack to the advert and experienced a sales surge as a result. During the Games it peaked at number 4 in the UK charts giving the band’s its highest-charting single ever in the nation.

Around the end of the Olympics Channel 4 complemented the ‘Superhumans’ campaign with cheeky newspaper and billboard adverts which simply said ‘Thanks for the Warm-up” which made quite clear that the Paralympics should be seen as a thrilling event in its own right, just like the Olympics.

Innovative coverage fronted by new talent

Whilst athletes around the world were preparing for the biggest event of their lives in London, two years out from the Games Channel 4 was spending £850,000 on recruiting and developing a new generation of presenters and reporters. When wining the rights Channel 4 committed to at least half of its new talent having an impairment in an effort to add authenticity and credibility to its coverage.

The channel’s nationwide search uncovered some great presenters, and 82 per cent of Channel 4’s audience enjoyed the fact that there were presenters with an impairment.

Amongst them was Rachael Latham a former Paralympic swimmer who added knowledge to coverage from the Aquatics Centre. Another former swimmer, gold medallist Giles Long, meanwhile developed Lexi, a graphics based system that helped viewers understand Paralympic classification.

“The Lexi system used to explain the different classifications was essential viewing,” proclaimed The Daily Telegraph, whilst 85 per cent of viewers agreed that the Lexi classification system was explained well.

At the opposite end of the spectrum to the complexities of classification was ‘The Last Leg’ a hilarious show fronted by Adam Hills and Alex Brooker, that offered an alternative take on each day’s action at the Games.

More than 9 million people watched the programme over the course of the Games and according to The Observer: “This programme has begun to change not just the way we talk about [disabled people] but, crucially the way we think about them.”

Record Audiences

‘The Last Leg’ was a small part of over 500 hours of coverage Channel 4 broadcast across its various platforms during the Games. Almost 40 million people – more than two thirds of the UK population – tuned in.

The Opening Ceremony audience peaked at 11.6 million giving Channel 4 its biggest audience in more than a decade. When British athlete Jonnie Peacock stormed to 100m T44 victory on ‘Thriller Thursday’ 6.3 million people watched, the largest rating ever for a Paralympic event in the UK.

One in four TV viewers watched Channel 4’s Paralympic coverage every day, and overall there was a 251 per cent increase in daily reach compared to viewing of the 2008 Paralympics.

Not only did the coverage reach record audiences, it also helped change perceptions and create household names.

Post Games research found 83 per cent of viewers agreed that Channel 4’s coverage will improve society’s perceptions of people with an impairment. Almost two in three (64 per cent) felt more positive towards people with an impairment as a result of what they saw on the channel.

In September 2010 shortly after Channel 4 screened its first Paralympic programme, a 90 minute documentary called Inside Incredible Athletes, just 18 per cent of the British population could name a Paralympian from their country without being prompted.

Following the Games, and after two years of Channel 4 programming which included a weekly magazine show called ‘That Paralympic Show’ this figure increased to 41 per cent.

Channel 4 is now hoping to secure the UK broadcast rights to Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 to help continue telling the amazing story it started with London 2012.

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