“Thanks for the warm up!” proclaimed Channel 4, barely a second after the Olympic flame had flickered out of existence. Now “Meet the Superhumans”. The unashamedly gritty promo which followed, set a gutsy, almost cocky, in-your-face tone for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. After the hugely successful coverage of the Olympics, brought to us by the publicly funded BBC, the rival commercial station had a tough act to follow, but boy did it deliver!
Set to the pumping soundtrack of Public Enemy’s ‘Harder Than You Think,’ Channel 4’s opener was slick, stylish and inspirational. If anyone thought that the Paralympics were simply a footnote to the Olympic Games, they were in for a shock!
This ballsy introduction was complimented by a magnificent paralympics opening ceremony, which managed to be at once moving and uplifting, arty and eccentric! Already, there has been much excitement surrounding the events, not to mention controversy.
This is not to say that Channel 4 has managed to attract the kind of viewing figures enjoyed by the Olympics. Writing for the BBC, Torin Douglas pointed out, almost smugly, that 27 million people tuned in to watch his employer’s coverage of the Olympic Opening Ceremony compared with less than half for the Paralympics.
Further criticisms have been made by other commentators that the Paralympics still lack the international ‘pull’ of the Olympic Games. Much, for instance, has been made of the absence of air time afforded to the former by American networks, such as NBC.
This may be true, but aren’t we missing the point? Surely no one in their right mind should expect the Paralympics to be as popular as it’s able-bodied, jock of a big brother! After all, the Paralympics is a sporting event involving a minority group, that has its beginnings little over half a century ago. Furthermore, it has to compete with powerful distractions. In the UK, for example, much of the male population will be tuning in to the start of a new football season.
The fact that 11 million people joined Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Jon Snow for the visually stunning paralympics opening ceremony, which included appearances from Beverley Knight, Stephen Hawkins and Sir Ian Mckellen should be applauded. Frankly, I don’t know which was more intriguing the lavish costumes or Snow’s equally impressive suit!
Channel 4 has clearly invested a great deal in their coverage of the Paralympics. A typical day opens with ‘The Paralympic Games Breakfast Show’, which is followed by ‘Morning and Afternoon at the Games’. ‘Evening at the Games’ continues on More 4 whilst the day’s events are rounded up with ‘Last Leg with Adam Hills’. Contrast this with the meagre offering broadcast by the BBC four years ago and Auntie has nothing to smirk about.
Moreover, Channels 4’s endeavours prove that a commercial station can be trusted with airing such a large sporting event. The BBC may have signed up the next two Olympics, but its position as the broadcasting corporation of choice for such spectacles is no longer sacrosanct.
Yes, it is a shame that other international programming stations such as those in the US don’t share Channel 4’s enthusiasm for the Paralympics and, yes, it would have been nice to see higher viewing figures, but these things take time. What matters is that the coverage and popularity of the Paralympics is clearly increasing. More people are commenting and discussing the events than ever before, whilst impressive ticket sales prove that the Paralympics is drawing real support. Don’t tell me the majority of people are simply there to admire the impressive stadia!
Channel 4 is taking its role very seriously. In doing so, it is demonstrating that Paralympians are not simply determined athletes, but true competitors, deserving of the media spotlight. The UK channel has done itself proud and has set the bar at a very high level – a level which will hopefully be raised even further in years to come.