NBCUniversal Hopes Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat Help Goose Olympics Ratings

Luring millennials with 'most social games ever'

NBCUniversal is already breaking ad-revenue records for the Rio Olympics, and while early ratings were significantly below those of the 2012 Summer Olympics, the gap has been closing a little more each day. Interest has been building in part thanks to what the company is calling "the most social" Olympics ever.

To that end, NBCU has teamed with every major social media platform—including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat—as it looks to hook millennial viewers and drive them to the company's expansive linear and digital Olympics coverage.

"To reach the younger audience, we all know that we have to reach into the social sphere," NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel told reporters in July. "We also know that if we're going to do it effectively, we've got to do it with a sensibility designed to engage that audience." 

In order to create what NBC Olympics CMO John Miller called "the most social games ever," NBCUniversal is presenting round-the-clock coverage on those platforms. That includes behind-the-scenes access, Facebook Live interviews, social media takeovers by athletes, real-time score updates, tune-in streaming info, social polls, articles, videos and photo galleries from NBCOlympics.com.

NBC Olympics and Facebook launched a "social comment center" in Rio, which is capturing Facebook Live content and includes interviews with NBC Olympics commentators and athletes. NBC Olympics is also publishing short-form videos every day on Facebook and Instagram in the U.S. with highlights and interviews.

NBC is producing a two-minute recap video each day for Facebook users in the U.S. It is also creating slow-motion video of a particularly inspiring moment each day on Instagram and highlighting Olympics commentators and athletes on its own Instagram account.

Adding to the company's Olympics advertising haul this year will be revenue from the content and ad-sharing deal struck in May with Snapchat to create daily live stories and a dedicated NBC Rio Olympics Discover channel. BuzzFeed, in which NBCUniversal invested $200 million last August, is co-producing the Discover channel, populating it with short clips and behind-the-scenes content. Twelve BuzzFeed producers are in Rio and are working "side by side [on content] with our production group," Zenkel said.

The company teamed up with a variety of social media personalities—Flula, the Fine Brothers, Charisma Star—to push out social media content. Vine star Logan Paul is in Rio to share Olympics content with his fans. And NBC Olympics is rolling out custom content it created with several Olympic athletes as part of a two-month plan.

Each social media platform includes tune-in information to drive fans to NBCU's 6,755 total hours of Rio Olympics programming, particularly the 260.5 hours of programming on NBC.

"To me, this is going to be first serious look at the impact of social," said Alan Wurtzel, NBCUniversal's president of research and media development. "We're going to learn a lot about how social media is used in the Olympics, but I also think it will give us some sense about the future of what social media can do. In the past, social media was an interesting sideshow … and there's been this notion of: Does it drive ratings? I've never really seen social media drive ratings; it's ratings that drive social media. But our hope is that it will fuel the conversation, particularly among younger consumers."

That's important given that younger viewers don't have the same connection to the Olympics that their parents did. "If you're of a certain age, like over 50, the Olympics mean something to you, because you grew up with it, and it was the Cold War," Wurtzel said. "And as soon as people know it's there, they watch. For younger guys, it doesn't mean that. I have kids, and they like the Olympics, but you have to rekindle their interest every Olympics. Because to them, it's just another big event. But once they get into it, they like it a lot."

That's why Wurtzel thinks social media will drive linear viewing in a way it rarely does successfully.

"I really believe that it will enhance the ratings on the mother ship, the broadcast program, because that audience will talk about it," he said. "There's that whole thing, FOMO—fear of missing out. If everybody's talking about it, I've got to go check this out."

NBC Olympics is capitalizing on the social buzz around the Olympics by hiring social media superfan Leslie Jones as an Olympics contributor. Jones starts on Friday.

The 2012 Olympics averaged a 17.5 household rating—which is the demo it uses to sell its Olympics inventory—and 31.1 million total viewers in prime time NBC. (The 2014 Winter Games averaged a 12.3 household rating and 21.4 million viewers.) This year, NBCUniversal guaranteed advertisers household live-plus-same-day ratings "in the high teens" for NBC's prime-time coverage, Seth Winter, evp of ad sales at NBC Sports Group, told Adweek.