During the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, the U.S. Olympians won more gold, silver, and bronze medals than any of the other 200+ member nations in the competition. This year’s Summer Games were filled with recording-breaking performances and new ways to monitor them as the Olympics continues to go multi-channel.
Broadcasting Rights, Ad Dollars, and Low TV Ratings
NBC (Comcast Corp.) paid over $12 billion for the rights to broadcast the Olympic Games through 2032. The company was banking on delivering big audiences to advertisers so its investment in Olympics programming is profitable. This year, the network anticipated record viewership since the most of the events could be watched live by U.S. viewers because the time in Rio de Janeiro is just one hour ahead of U.S. Eastern Daylight Time. Advertisers spent a total of $1.2 billion to get their commercials aired during this year’s Summer Games. More than 6,700 hours of Olympic events were broadcasted on live TV and streamed via the Web—nearly double the hours of coverage from 2012. During the London Olympics, NBCUniversal used a website and a mobile app to broadcast about 3,500 hours of the Games. Back in 2008, only a fraction of the sports and 2,200 hours were streamed during the Beijing Games. While NBC holds the rights to broadcast the Olympics in the U.S., many other media channels are also in play to help cover all of the events. From YouTube’s partnership with broadcasters in more than 60 countries to Facebook Live, Twitter, and Snapchat, this year’s Olympic viewership was at an all-time high in terms of media consumption.
According to media research company Mindshare, 88% of Olympics viewers were planning to watch the events on TV. At the same time, however, the ratings for NBC’s broadcast of the 2016 Opening Ceremony were the lowest since the Barcelona Games in Summer 1992. About 26.5 million viewers watched NBC’s coverage of the Rio Opening Ceremony, which was down nearly 35% from the nearly 40.7 million viewers who witnessed the London Opening Ceremony in 2012. Meanwhile, about 15 million tuned in for the last lap of the Rio Games on NBC in primetime compared to the 31 million that watched the closing show during the London Summer Games. 2016 marked the first time that the ceremonies and the rest of the Games were streamed online simultaneously. This is believed to have hurt TV ratings. Nevertheless, Mindshare’s pre-Olympics survey found that 23% of viewers—more than one in five—said they would watch the events online. Although 71% of Olympics viewers stated that they planned to watch the Games live, the potential for online viewership was clearly great even before the Olympics began.
Official Sponsorships and Trademarked Hashtags
Over the past decade, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken action to prevent “ambush marketing” during the Olympic Games, where companies who haven’t paid the committee to be official sponsors attempt to take advantage of the event to support their brand. For example, during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Nike provided gold medalist Michael Johnson with golden shoes before he ran his winning race. Nike wasn’t an official sponsor, but the visibility of its product on a high-profile athlete had a profound impact on its brand awareness and buzz. Meanwhile, Reebok—which reportedly paid $50 million in sponsorships that summer—was negatively affected by its competitor’s tactics. Since the revenue generated from sponsors account for more than 40% of the Games’ revenues, the IOC better monitors ambush marketing to protect its sponsor brands.
Rule 40 has been the marketing talk of the Olympics ever since, but this summer the IOC’s protections focused largely on social media and involved a list of restricted trademarked hashtags and phrases. For example, only official sponsors could use phrases like “Let the Games Begin” before, during, and after the Rio 2016 Games. Even the athletes needed to be careful about what they posted on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram because the Olympics’ Rule 40 (created after the Nike ordeal) calls for athletes to cut ties with non-official partners until three days after the Rio Games conclude. The punishment for breaking these rules is strict; athletes could lose their medals if they violate them.
While 2016 Olympic sponsors (P&G, Coca-Cola, Samsung, McDonald’s, GE, Bridgestone, Panasonic, and Visa) were allowed to use the athletes, medals, rings, and even the word “Olympics” in their advertising, marketing, and social media outreach, others were forced to create campaigns that told an Olympic story without actually mentioning the Games or showing any official branding or trademarks. For example, Under Armor featured Michael Phelps in an ad (as part of the #RuleYourself campaign in partnership with several athletes who are currently in Rio) for his “last swim,” which is clearly a reference to the Olympic Games. Creative hashtags and personal updates from the Olympians themselves have further catapulted Olympic media consumption beyond anything that TV ratings alone could achieve. If social media is any indication, Rio 2016 did not disappoint—followers of Phelps’ Facebook page increased by 10% in about a month, rising from 7.7 million to almost 8.8 million after he won his 23rd gold medal.
Getting Personal with Video
According to video analytics firm Visible Measures, branded videos for the 2016 Olympic Games tripled the number of views from the two previous Olympics at the same point in time. A common theme in ads for the Rio Olympics was a focus on real people. In fact, Visible Measures estimates that 42% of this year’s brand video campaigns told a heartwarming or inspirational story. Launched around Mother’s Day 2016, P&G’s “Thank-You Mom” campaign was a great example of that, and was also a continuation from the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Other top ads included “Always #LikeAGirl – Keep Playing,” Minute Maid’s “#doinggood | See What U.S. Olympian Missy Franklin Has To Say,” Samsung’s “The Chant,” and Visa’s “The Carpool To Rio.” Furthermore, Mindshare reports that 56% of viewers between the ages of 18 and 34 said they would like to see brands provide behind-the-scenes content on athletes and teams. Another 45% would like to see brands provide access to tips and advice from Olympic athletes on their sports.
Going for the Gold with Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality (VR) was another new media element for this year’s Olympic Games. Users of compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphones had access to over 85 hours of Olympic viewing. Immersed in the environment of the Rio Games with a 360-degree view, the VR programming was presented on delay from the day after the Opening Ceremony to the day after the Olympics concluded. According to a Mindshare study, 43% of all Olympics viewers said that they would watch the Olympics using a VR headset if they owned one (this share was 58% among those between the ages of 18 and 34).
The Bottom Line
Regardless of whether you’re an active follower of the Summer Olympics, it was difficult to avoid the updates on your social media newsfeeds, online news outlets, or traditional television set. Although only sponsored advertisers were permitted to use certain hashtags, sponsors and non-sponsors alike all wanted to say “Go Team USA!”