Now BBC lets Brits watch the Olympics on Facebook

Olympic fans will now be able to watch the Games live from inside Facebook (s FB), after the BBC launched a new app that streams its sports coverage right into the social network.

The app, which launched in beta on Thursday, allows people to share and comment on video as they watch it — potentially allowing for real time commentary and conversation to happen directly on Facebook. And with the event taking place in London this summer, the BBC will be the official Olympic broadcaster and have direct control of every single feed of video pouring out of the Games.

There’s one catch, however: like the corporation’s iPlayer service, which is mainly limited to British audiences, users outside the U.K. need not apply.

The app is already up and running with live video from the Wimbledon tennis championships, which features six live streams from around the courts — but by the time the Games kick off in a month, that will quadruple to 24 streams all viewable inside the social network.

In a blog post, product manager Aaron Scullion explained what the Facebook integration could offer that the ordinary iPlayer service would not.

The app is a BBC Sport service, but is entirely delivered within Facebook.
This means that we can use the social functionality Facebook offers to enhance the experience.
For example, when you watch a match in Facebook, you can see how many people – and how many people you’re friends with on Facebook – are watching that same event.

As well as that, the fact that you’re watching the match is shared with your friends, via an update in their Facebook news feed. (You can easily remove each update with a single click if you don’t want to share at a particular time).

You can also see which matches are proving most popular on Facebook, and switch to a different video stream on that basis.

The corporation is pitching this as a way to help license fee payers get more value out of the Games, but the reality is that it’s also part of the BBC’s increasing ambition to make its video available on every platform. It also, interestingly, includes advertising — though that will be withdrawn when the Olympics take place due to rules put in place by the International Olympic Committee. However, as far as the rules from the BBC itself, the situation is less clear cut. The BBC says it won’t make any money from this venture (it does not advertise inside the U.K.) but clearly it opens a door to a service that is available outside Britain and runs ads, just as BBC News does on its international site, for example.

It’s a significant move that may not necessarily broaden the BBC’s reach — it is already one of the most ubiquitous brands in Britain — but could provide a lifeline for athletics fans stuck at work while the Olympics take place across the country.

Olympic rings photograph copyright Shutterstock/Steve Heap