NBC’s Multi-platform Coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics Wins Gold

NBC’s Multi-platform Coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics Wins Gold

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The 2016 Rio Olympic Games are over and we know who won: NBC’s multi-platform coverage of the games. This included 260.5 hours of network television coverage on NBC; 1,044 total hours of cable TV coverage on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN), TELEMUNDO and NBC UNIVERSO, The Golf Channel, USA Network, Bravo, MSNBC, and CNBC; as well as 4,500 total hours of live streaming on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app.

In fact, if it wasn’t for this multi-platform strategy, NBC’s primetime Olympic ratings on network television alone wouldn’t have cost-justified the $12 billion that NBC and its parent company, Comcast, paid for the exclusive broadcast rights to the Olympic games through 2032. So, what lessons can media companies as well as brands and agencies learn from the Rio Olympics before the Paralympic Games, World Series, college football bowl games, Super Bowl, March Madness, or other tent-pole events are held in the foreseeable future?

Rio 2016: Identifying the Target Audience

The first question that any media company needs to answer is: Who is your target audience? And for NBC, the answer was dictated by advertisers who wanted to reach viewers within the 18–49 age range. And according to an NBC Olympics press release, NBC’s primetime Rio Olympic ratings were the most dominant in the Adult 18-49 demographic of any Olympics on record.

How dominant were they? Well, according to U.S. data provided by The Nielsen Company, NBC’s 13-night 7.7 primetime rating through Aug. 18, 2016, in the Adult 18-49 demographic was 353% above the other broadcast networks combined (1.7 on ABC, CBS and FOX) – the most lopsided advantage for the first 13 days of any Olympics in history. Okay, but NBC’s primetime broadcast viewership for the Rio Olympic Games were actually down 17% from the 2012 London Olympics. And the audience coveted by advertisers – the 18-to-49-year-old age group – was down 25%, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

So, touting the fact that your network television audience was more than 4.5 times bigger than the other broadcast networks put together is like promoting the fact that you’re one of the last surviving silent film actors. In case you hadn’t noticed, the silent film era ended sometime around 1929. However, it seems that NBCUniversal’s CEO Steve Burke had noticed this trend in the digital video marketing business. According to Bloomberg, Burke joked at a conference back in June that his “nightmare” scenario was to “wake up someday and the ratings are down 20%.”

Well, his worst nightmare actually came true. But, fortunately, NBC’s digital presentation of the 2016 Rio Olympics broke previous consumption records. Through last Wednesday night, viewers streamed 2.25 billion (with a “b”) live minutes – more than 750 million minutes ahead of the combined total of ALL prior Olympics.Who were these viewers? NBC hasn’t disclosed the demographics … yet. But, Tubular gives us some Audience Insights into the people who watched videos on YouTube about the 2016 Rio Olympics: 80.6% were 18-44 years old.

Audience Insights on Rio Olympics 2016
Audience Insights on Rio Olympics 2016 for YouTube videos with over 10k views. Insight data based on engagement. (All data via Tubular)

Why is engagement data important? Because these aren’t people who have just “watched” a video. First, they had to discover it out of the 244,000 videos about the 2016 Rio Olympics that have been uploaded in the past 90 days. Then, they watched it. And after watching it, they applauded which they’d seen, started a conversation about it, and shared it on social networks with their friends, family, and colleagues.

In other words, this is the psychographic group that YouTube calls “Gen C.” This powerful and global group of consumers:

  • Doesn’t just passively consume content: 90% of Gen C members also create online content at least once a month and three-quarters curate online content at least once a week.
  • Is made up of passionate brand advocates: Gen C members are 1.8x more likely to be influencers, agreeing that “people often come to me for advice before making a purchase,” and two out of three say, “If there is a brand I love, I tend to tell everyone about it.”
  • Can be the best customers of a media company’s advertisers: Gen C members are up to 3.6x more likely to purchase products and services than their non-Gen C counterparts, and 56% have taken action after watching ads for a product or service on YouTube.

What Online Content Did Viewers Watch?

The 2016 Rio Olympics didn’t feature the kind of classic rivalry between the United States and the former Soviet Union that we saw from the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. So, watching the U.S. take home 121 medals, including 46 golds, followed by China, with 70 medals, including 26 golds, and Great Britain, with 67 medals, including 27 golds, lacked much of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat that Baby Boomers remember seeing while growing up.

So, what types of content did online video viewers watch? For starters, they watched a lot. According to Tubular, 244,000 videos about the 2016 Rio Olympics have received 3.9 billion (with a “b”) views and 111 million (with an “m”) engagements in the last 90 days. The gold medal video with the most views was titled, “Hopefully that gets fixed #rio2016 #olympics2016.” Uploaded to Facebook on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016, the video showed graphic content of Samir Ait Said, a French gymnast, breaking his left leg at the knee after landing awkwardly during his vault routine. Although it’s no longer available, this video got 47.8 million views and 1.4 million engagements before being removed on Saturday, Aug. 13.

The silver medal video with the second most views is titled, “Chris Brooks High Bar.” Uploaded by NBC Sports to Facebook on June 25 before the 2016 Rio Olympics got underway, it shows what Brooks, an American gymnast, called “the best routine of my life” at the U.S. Olympic team trials. This promo video got 34.5 million views and 692,000 engagements.

And the bronze medal video with the third most views is titled, “Gillette: Perfect Isn’t Pretty | Rio 2016 Olympic Games | Sia Unstoppable.”  Uploaded to YouTube by Gillette on July 13, this video ad provides a glimpse into the Olympic training for Neymar Jr., Ning Zetao, Ashton Eaton, and Andy Tennant as they work toward the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. This video ad got 33.4 million views and 157,000 engagements.

Two BIG Video Marketing Lessons from 2016 Rio Olympics

What lessons can video publishers, and marketers learn the type of content about the 2016 Rio Olympics that got the most views in the last 90 days?

  • For starters, it can come from anywhere: Media companies, advertisers, and user-generated content. For viewers, great content is great content. Video marketers may put it into categories; viewers don’t. They watch and engage with the video content that generates the most intense emotions.
  • The second lesson is: Use YouTube’s YouTube’s Content ID and Facebook’s Rights Manager to manage and protect your content on these popular video platforms. They are continually making improvements and it’s better to work with them than it is to take your ball and go home.

How Viewers Find, Watch, & Share Videos

Unlike television, online video can be discovered, watched, and shared hours, days, and even weeks after an event. So, it’s okay to upload online videos or stream events live at the same time that you’re broadcasting on network television or narrowcasting on more than half a dozen cable TV channels. The viewing audience won’t be fragmented. It’s already segmented. In case your executives or clients haven’t noticed, Millennials (who are 20-35 years old) and Gen Xers (who are 36-51) – who make up the bulk of NBC’s target audience – have very different media habits than Baby Boomers (who are 52-70).

For example, a 2015 Pew Research Center analysis found that 61% of online Millennials get political news on Facebook in a given week, compared to only 37% who rely on local TV. By comparison, 51% of online Gen Xers get political news on Facebook in a given week, while 46% do so on local TV. In contrast, 60% of internet-using Baby Boomers get political news from local TV, and only 39% rely on Facebook.

And it’s also worth knowing that a report by Tubular and Ogilvy entitled, The Rise of Multi-Platform Video: Why Brands Need a Multi-Platform Video Strategy, found that 50% of Facebook views came on Day 1 vs. 20% of YouTube total views. But, your executives or clients shouldn’t worry about uploading to one video platform before the other. According to Alexa, an Amazon.com company, relative to the general internet population, males are over-represented at YouTube.com, while females are over-represented at Facebook.com. So, the online video market isn’t fragmented; it’s segmented, too. Of course, the best outcome for media companies as well as brands is to build YouTube channels and Facebook pages that become destinations for your target audience before, during, and after tent-pole events like the 2016 Rio Olympics.

And according to Tubular, the NBC Olympics page on Facebook uploaded 482 videos in the last 90 days, which got 225 million views. This made it the creator with the most views for the 2016 Rio Olympics out of 104,000 accounts. The NBC Olympics page now has a total of 3.3 million followers, an increase of 1.5 million from 30 days ago.

In second place was the Samsung Mobile channel on YouTube, which uploaded 3 videos in the last 90 days that got 56.3 million views. It now has 1.8 million followers, an increase of 78,200 from 30 days ago.

And in third place was Visa’s Facebook page, which uploaded 24 videos in the last 90 days that got 55.5 million views. It now has 20.5 million total followers, an increase of 172,000 from 30 days ago.

Rio Olympics 2016 video uploads
Most viewed video properties who uploaded Rio 2016 Olympics content in last 90 days (data via Tubular).

Looking the chart above, it’s worth reminding ourselves that even brands are media companies in the world of online video. Yes, brands may buy paid media (advertising) from Facebook, YouTube, and NBC, but brands can also build their own audience with a strategy that includes owned media (websites and blogs), shared media (Facebook pages and YouTube channels), as well as earned media (videos and ads that are embedded on news sites and blogs or shared on social networks).

Going Beyond Video Views to Measure Success

NBC announced that it sold $1.2 billion worth of advertising for the 2016 Rio Olympics. That was about 20% ahead of ad sales for the 2012 games in London. Digital sales were up about 33% over London. So, how should the media company as well as brands and agencies measure their results?

The temptation will be to use the lowest common denominator – metrics like gross ratings points (GRPs), targeted ratings points (TRPs), impressions, or views. And that may be what happens this time around – because that’s what was promised and expected this time around. However, in the foreseeable future, media companies as well as brands and agencies need a new set of metrics that measure business outcomes, not advertising outputs. In fact, there are the three key reasons why we need to go beyond GRPs, TRPs, impressions, and views to measure results.

First, we’re now living in a multi-platform video world where YouTube says you pay for a “view” when a viewer watches 30 seconds of your video – or the duration if it’s shorter than 30 seconds – or engages with your video, whichever comes first. But, Facebook says you pay for a “view” when a video is displayed in a user’s news feed for 3 seconds or more, even if the person doesn’t actually click on the video to watch with the sound turned on. So, comparing the number views that your YouTube videos have with the number of views that your Facebook videos have is like comparing oranges and kumquats.

Second, it’s time to admit that no one really knows what a GRP, TRP, impression, or view is actually worth. How many of these meaningless metrics do you need to increase brand awareness? How many of these advertising outputs does an ad have to get to have a direct impact on consumer perceptions and behaviors?

Third, if no one knows what a GRP, TRP, impression, or view is actually worth, then what is a good average cost for one of these meaningless metrics? Well, it’s probably going to be as low as possible, which isn’t one of the healthiest trends in either the television or the digital video marketing business.

The New Metrics for Video Content

First, media companies, as well as brands and agencies, should start using “watch time”. Why? Well, about a year ago, the Google Agency Blog published some research which found that there is a consistent relationship between how long a video ad is viewable and increases in brand awareness and consideration. The longer a user views your ad, the higher the lift in these two important brand metrics.


Watch time is also a metric that matters for the two leading video platforms. In October 2012, YouTube added “estimated minutes watched” to the “Views” report in YouTube Analytics. A day later, YouTube started adjusting the ranking of videos in YouTube search to reward engaging videos that kept viewers watching. In June 2014, Facebook announced that it was adding how long someone watched a video to its ranking factors, which had previously included likes, comments, and shares. And in February 2016, Facebook added new metrics to its reports that let advertisers see the percentage of people who have viewed their videos with sound in Page Insights and Ads Insights, too.

Brands and agencies should start using metrics that matter like “brand lift” or the rapid results of “brand polling.” How? In February 2013, Google introduced its Brand Lift solution. It initially measured measure the actual impact of a YouTube ad campaign on brand awareness, ad recall and brand interest. Today, it also measures the impact of YouTube ads on consideration, favorability, and purchase intent. Facebook and Instagram also offer brand polling solutions that enable advertisers to measure brand awareness and ad recall. Just like Google, Facebook randomly puts part of your target audience into a control group that isn’t able to see your ads. The poll is then served to the control group and a test group with identical characteristics. The lift between the control and test groups accurately shows the impact of Facebook and Instagram advertising.

How Facebook's brand polling works

Thirdly, publishers should move beyond metrics that calculate their cost-per-eyeballs and start using cost-per-acquisition (CPA) bidding – especially for video ads. For a YouTube ad campaign, you can use a CPA bid strategy to tell AdWords the amount you’re willing to pay for a conversion. AdWords will then automatically sets your bids to give you as many conversions as possible at your targeted cost-per-acquisition. This strategy can help you reach customers who are likely to take an action, such as making a purchase (for an ecommerce site), completing a game level (for a mobile gaming app), or submitting a contact information form (for a marketing or lead generation site).

Facebook also helps advertisers determine exactly how their video ads impact their bottom line by offering conversion lift measurement capabilities. Building on existing Facebook measurement offerings, conversion lift allows advertisers to accurately determine the additional business driven by Facebook ads and make future marketing decisions based on this information.

In short, the biggest lesson to learn from watching the 2016 Rio Olympics is that the metrics we’ve been using to measure results need to fundamentally change. Imagine being able to go beyond traditional metrics like GRPs, TRPs, impressions, or views to measure a video ad campaign’s impact on brand awareness and consideration during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang or the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. That would be something worth celebrating.


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