TikTok, Snap and YouTube are all-in on the 2024 Olympics, with NBC’s help

Jun 24, 2024; Eugene, OR, USA; Olivia Markezich and Gabbi Jennings race over the water jump in the women's steeplechase during the US Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Social media companies such as TikTok, Snap and YouTube are betting big on this summer’s Paris Olympics, with plans to flood the city with creators to cover the Games in ways that traditional broadcasters such as NBC can’t.

And NBC is helping them do it.

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Rather than treating social companies as an enemy poisoning the value of traditional telecasts, NBC is trying something it never has around the Olympics before, partnering with the platforms to make social media superstars such as gymnast Livvy Dunne and streamer Kai Cenat as part of its coverage.

NBC has had deals in previous Olympics to provide these companies with clips and highlights. But after two pandemic-marred Olympics, TikTok, Snap, YouTube and others such as Meta and the Gen Z sports media company Overtime want to do more in Paris, seeing the Games as a rare unifying global event that will appeal to people in their teens and 20s. The network is working hard to oblige them.

“NBC has unlocked access like they’ve never had before,” said Angela Courtin, YouTube’s vice president of marketing.

In the past, the idea of NBC giving media credentials to TikTokers and YouTubers would have been unthinkable. The network is early in a $7.6 billion deal for the American rights to broadcast the Olympics through 2032 and has protected its investment with vigilance, constantly pushing viewers toward its telecasts.

Times have changed, however, and NBC is scrambling to adapt to an evolving media world, adding multiple streaming options for the Paris Games on its app Peacock in addition to a traditional prime time telecast. Still, the network’s executives have realized that streaming won’t be enough to get younger viewers.

“If we don’t put it [on the social platforms], they will watch less Olympics, so we are putting it there,” said Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics.

Olympic officials are expecting a social media surge in Paris. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach recently said the IOC has estimated there will be more than 500 million posts from this summer’s Olympics, and that reading just one second of them all would take a person 16 years without stopping.

“NBC is right in there with us,” said Harish Sarma, TikTok’s global head of publisher monetization. “We’re not doing this sort of on our own. We’re doing this in sort of partnership with them to see them be successful on our platform. They’ve seen the success, too.”

To understand how, you must go back three years to the Tokyo Olympics and a dancing horse nicknamed Mopsie.

The horse, whose real name is Suppenkasper, was ridden in the dressage event by American equestrian athlete Steffen Peters. Since dressage is not one of the Olympics’ most popular disciplines, the silver medal Mopsie and Peters helped the United States win would have been largely unnoticed had NBC not posted on its TikTok account a video of Mopsie sidestepping to the 1993 dance hit “What is Love.”

Almost instantly, the clip went viral. Mopsie soon had a new nickname - “Rave Horse” - and tens of thousands of people, many of whom surely had never heard of dressage, discovered something new.

“More of these nuanced or niche disciplines will actually get coverage in a way [they otherwise] wouldn’t,” Sarma said. “And it then generates interest in that discipline and actually starts to generate views and engagement for the broadcaster.”

Sarma and other platform executives see themselves filling what they consider an empty void around the Olympics. He points out that after American gymnast Sunisa Lee won the all-around competition in Tokyo, she returned to the athletes’ village and made a TikTok in her room.

Pandemic restrictions at the Tokyo Games prohibited athletes from leaving the village except to practice and compete. About the only place Lee could go to celebrate was her room. And that is what Sarma loves about her post: Television viewers got to see only Lee’s performance and medal ceremony; those on TikTok were able to understand the isolation of being an athlete in a tiny dorm room at a locked-down Olympics.

“If you’re a basketball player or an Olympic athlete, you can also tell your story; you’re the person holding the microphone,” said Anmol Malhotra, Snap’s head of sports partnerships. “Before, the broadcaster was the one holding the microphone. What changed is the athlete or the creator is holding the microphone. They can talk for themselves.”

After two Pandemic Olympics where only athletes, coaches and media were allowed into the country and a 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang that was too remote for many outsiders, the social media platforms are looking at Paris as their first chance to go all-in on an Olympics. Sarma said Tokyo was “surprisingly very successful” for TikTok in terms of the number of posts that were produced and watched. In Paris, NBC will have 27 creators between TikTok, Snap, YouTube, Meta and Overtime, though not all will be there at the same time.

Dunne, the LSU gymnast who became famous for her social media posts, will be inside the gymnastics arena as part of the NBC team for Snap during big competitions in Paris yet won’t be on the actual telecast. Instead, she will post to her public profile and on Spotlight while also using special augmented reality lenses that Snap developed with NBC.

“Her audience on Snap is different than NBC’s audience,” Malhorta said.

Cenat, with 11.6 million followers on Twitch and 6.1 million subscribers on YouTube, will have a similar role for Snap at basketball and track and field events along with Duke Dennis, another social media star with whom he often appears.

TikTok is sending seven creators to Paris, including beauty and fashion creator Jasmine Nguyen, food blogger Richard Chao and Daniel Macdonald, who is famous for his “What do you do for a living?” videos. They will be a complementary part of NBC’s coverage as well as going around the city making TikToks. YouTube’s creators will be doing similar things.

“I’m really proud of NBC for leaning into these platforms and these voices around the experience,” Courtin said, adding that she thinks the partnership with NBC makes the Games “more accessible, more inclusive, more relatable.”

“I think relatability is something people really want,” she said.

In the lead-up to Paris, NBC approached the social platforms with the idea of having creators as part of their coverage. They asked the companies to find people who they thought would fit the role the network envisioned. As the network and platforms developed a plan, NBC executives became more comfortable with the concept.

“We are monetizing that audience,” Zenkel said. “We are delivering content to the through these platforms because [the platforms] know their audience the best and how to reach them And we are delivering to our advertisers this audience the advertisers crave.”

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