Research: Paralympics coverage helped change attitudes to disability

Category: News Release

Channel 4 has released an update on the results of research carried out to assess the impact of its coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics Games on society's attitudes to disability sport, and to disability more generally.

The update, which is being sent as a booklet to stakeholders (see attachment below), includes studies carried out by BDRC Continental and YouGov and the results of a newly published piece of academic research from Bournemouth University Media School.

Over the course of two years, academics from Bournemouth University Media School conducted in-depth interviews with able-bodied and disabled individuals from a cross-section of British society. Three waves of research were undertaken - two prior to the Paralympic Games and one following their conclusion.

Following the final stage of their research, the academic study found that "the Paralympics had a noticeable impact on the way that disabled sport was talked about."  This included:

  • There was a clear understanding that Paralympics had a social agenda of improving attitudes towards disability and awareness of disabled sports is markedly higher.
  • There was genuine and palpable surprise at the emotional reactions generated by watching the Paralympics - as an ‘inspiring' part of summer of British sport. Through their stories, there was a sense that viewers were genuinely surprised at just how emotive and thrilling the Paralympics was. Several sports enthusiasts, disabled and able-bodied alike, made references to a metaphor of addiction, describing how they became ‘hooked', ‘caught up in it' and ‘swept along' when viewing the TV coverage of the Paralympics.
  • There was a shift from expecting to see only the disability to primarily seeing sporting excellence. This was accompanied by a shift away from sympathy and pity to thrill and excitement associated with watching live sport. This indicates that they held a prior belief (not openly discussed) that the Paralympics would be less competitive than able-bodied elite sport.
  • There was a reduction in expressed senses of discomfort when watching people with disability on our screens. This was shaped by seeing them primarily as athletes (rather than disabled people) and by the focus on the incredible technology. Some participants spoke of the relief they felt at the tone of the Channel 4 coverage, assuaging fears that it might have been patronising.
  • This resulted in greater confidence and less anxiety in talking about disabled sports evident but primarily through a single narrative of ‘triumph over adversity'. This is important when we consider benchmarks established in previous waves, which identified this as an important obstacle to overcome.

Audience research carried out for Channel 4 by BDRC Continental and YouGov immediately after the Games revealed the impact of the 2012 Paralympics on perceptions of disability and Paralympic sport in the UK. The findings included:

-                     Two thirds of viewers (65%) feel the coverage of the Paralympics has had a favourable impact on their perceptions towards people with disabilities.1

-                     More than four in five Adults (82%) agreed disabled athletes are as talented as able-bodied athletes, rising to 91% among those who had watched Channel 4's coverage of the Paralympics.2

-                     Almost two thirds of Adults (64%) agreed that the Paralympics is as good as the Olympics, rising to 79% among those who had watched Channel 4's coverage of the Paralympics. 2

-                     Two thirds of viewers (68%) felt the coverage of the Paralympics has had a favourable impact on their perceptions to disabled sport. 1

-          Around two in three viewers (69%) said this is the first time they have ever made an effort to watch the Paralympics, while half (50%) said this is the first Paralympics they have ever watched. 67% said they watched more than they expected to.1

-          80% of viewers enjoyed the fact that there were disabled presenters on screen in Channel 4's coverage of the Paralympics1 and almost three quarters of the audience (74%) agreed that they enjoyed the matter of fact discussions about disability.2

-          Three in five viewers (61%) saying they understand the 'Lexi Decoder' classification system.1

-          More than four in five viewers (83%) agreed they know more about Paralympic sports and over four in five viewers (83%) agreed that they are more familiar with disabled athletes as a result of watching Channel 4's coverage.2


1.                A BDRC Continental daily survey for Channel 4 of 1833 viewers, representative of UK adults - undertaken between 29th August and 6th September 2012

2.                A YouGov Plc survey:  total sample size was 1027 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6th - 7th September 2012 .  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Channel 4 broadcast almost 500 hours of coverage across the 2012 Paralympic Games, an increase of 400% on the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.  In total, the Paralympics coverage on Channel 4 was watched by 39.9 million people - equivalent to 69% of the population; with an average of 14.6 million (25.4%) viewers tuning in every day.

The opening ceremony was watched by a peak audience of 11.6 million viewers - Channel 4's biggest audience in over 10 years - with Jonnie Peacock's gold medal win in the T44 100m on attracting the biggest ever Paralympic sports audience in the UK with a peak of 6.3 million viewers.


Channel 4 commitment to a new generation of disabled talent

Channel 4 has a long and proud history of programming featuring disabled people, and of confronting complex social issues.  It was a natural fit for Channel 4 to cover the London Paralympic Games in a new way - by committing to a target that 50% of its presenters would be disabled.

Channel 4 spent £600,000 in identifying, training and developing ten new disabled presenters and reporters. An intense training programme included boot camps, work placements with other broadcasters and production companies (including BBC, ITV, Sky, Channel 5, IMG, Sunset+Vine, Perform, ESPN and Film Nova) and real world experience in front of the cameras.  Successful applicants had to meet a series of tough criteria to ensure they could cope with the demands of fast-paced live sports coverage.

An ex-Royal Marine, a carpenter and a former Paralympic swimmer were among the new disabled presenters uncovered by Channel 4 in its talent search. The new team played major roles presenting and reporting on the 2012 Paralympic Games.

Building on this, Channel 4 committed a further £250,000 across the next two years to support and develop the existing disabled presenters across a range of television genres and to continue to identify new opportunities for disabled talent on-screen.

In 2013, Channel 4's continuing commitment to giving a platform to new disabled voices and talent will include:

  • After a critically acclaimed debut run during the 2012 Paralympic Games, The Last Leg will return to Channel 4 for a new series in 2013 in addition to a Christmas special - which will be fronted by Adam Hills alongside Alex Brooker.
  • The return of two successful series from 2012: The Undateables - following disabled single people as they enter the dating circuit in pursuit of love; and I'm Spazticus - a comedy prank series written by and performed by disabled people.
  • Peak time Paralympics presenter Ade Adepitan will work as a reporter for Channel 4's news and current affairs team and will work on the channel's flagship strands, Dispatches and Unreported World.
  • Paralympics reporter, Jordan Jarrett-Bryan is working as a sports reporter for Channel 4 News.
  • The UK's para-sport magazine show, That Paralympic Show, will return in 2013 for a new series covering a wide range of events, and with a new presenting line up which will include several of the team who made their debut on Channel 4's coverage of the 2012 Paralympics.
  • Channel 4 is also working with a number of the presenters from the Paralympics on new development projects with independent producers.