Pivot to Video: Inside NBC’s Social Media Strategy for the 2018 Winter Games
This year’s Olympics will be the “most live” Winter Games in history. While marquee events like figure skating and snowboarding will be given a proper prime-time presentation, NBC plans to air the events in Pyeongchang, South Korea live across all time zones, no delays. Perhaps more telling, high-quality videos will be hitting your social feeds as fast as the NBC team can post them.
In the two short years between the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, video's presence on social media platforms skyrocketed. “Coming out of Rio, there was a lot of research that suggested video was driving more interest in watching longer-form content,” says NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel, adding that the social-media landscape has changed a lot even in the year and a half since the Rio Games. “My head is spinning over things we’re doing this time that we didn’t do last time—not because we chose not to but because they just weren’t available to us.”
And the numbers don't lie. The 187 million tweets about #Rio2016 were viewed 75 billion times (yes, billion with a “b”), according to Twitter. Facebook interactions for those same games equaled 1.5 billion interactions, and video views on the NBC Olympics Facebook page totalled more than 600 million. Meanwhile, 35 million Snapchat users watched 2.2 billion snaps—more than 230 million minutes of content.
There’s no reason to believe those numbers won’t climb as the Winter Games kick off Friday in South Korea—so NBC is going all out. The network will be streaming clips on Facebook, posting them on Twitter and YouTube, and posting snaps and live video on Snapchat. The result is advertising revenue, naturally, but it’s also a way to be a part of a conversation online that’s benefiting from NBC’s broadcast.
How could it not? NBC has already paid billions to stream and broadcast the games; if it's not taking a piece of the social-media pie, it's not getting the most out of its investment. Besides, while it might seem like watching Olympic highlights on social media pulls people away from the TV—primetime viewership for the Rio Games averaged 27.5 million, a 9 percent drop from the 30.3 million for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London—Zenkel says it actually makes them more engaged, even if they’re just streaming on NBCOlympics.com or the NBC Sports app.
Having a strong presence on social media can also provide counterprogramming to any snark that might arise. In 2012, aka the “Twitter Olympics” in London, viewers used the hashtag #NBCFail to call out shortcomings in the network’s coverage. Zenkel says his social media team likely won’t spend much time looking at viewers’ wants/complaints—”we’ve got to keep plowing ahead”—but simply by sharing more content the network is likely pre-empting a reprise of those coverage complaints.
The big piece, though, will be NBC’s very live strategy. Many of the gripes during the #NBCFail days, and in other Olympics’ events, has come from the problems of tape delays and awkward commercial interruptions. Transmitting everything, within reason, live as it happens should assuage that. (It also helps that Pyeongchang is 14 hours ahead of America’s East Coast; winter events that generally happen in the morning or midday, like skiing and ice skating, will be ongoing during primetime.) Video and information will go out on social media just as soon as it happens, Zenkel says, ensuring that no one misses a moment.
That raises a question, though. If everything is airing, streaming, and posting on social media as it happens, won’t people get spoiled by Twitter and Facebook while waiting to go home and watch their favorite odd-hours event on their DVR? Most likely yes—but these days, that’s a price everyone has to pay.
“The days of Spoiler Alerts are over,” Zenkel says. “We think a great moment is something that people want to witness. There’s no reason to hide the fact that something amazing happened.”
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