Social Media and the London Olympics

The International Olympic Committee hyped the 2012 Summer Olympics as the “World’s First Social Games” and NBC had an incentive to make that prediction come true.  The network actually had a tough road to climb to increase engagement and get people to watch more of the games.  In fact, most insiders agree that internally NBC anticipated the London games would have a smaller audience than Beijing delivered in 2008.

However, despite a few hiccups along the way, the social aspect of the games was able to reach new heights.  First, NBC live-streamed every competition, which brought an entirely new audience to video streaming.  By some accounts, 75% of people who streamed the Olympics on their tablets had never played video on those devices before while 83% of smartphone streamers had never done so.  That meant that approximately 64.1 million live video streams were downloaded compared to only 14 million in Beijing and the total number of video streams downloaded (live or otherwise) was double that of Beijing.

However, the real social media winner was Facebook, which accounted for around 73% of all Olympic social activity.  Fans flocked to follow athletes like Gabby Douglas – who had 14,358 followers on July 27 and 540,174 by the end of the games – and Usain Bolt who now has over 8 million followers.

Twitter also played a starring role accounting for around 22% of all social Olympic activity.  With a conservative estimate of over 50 million tweets about the Olympics, activity went as high as 80,000 tweets per minute after Bolt won the 200-meter sprint and spiked to 116,000 per minute after the Spice Girls closing ceremony performance.

And all of this activity paid off for NBC.  Actual prime-time viewership increased by approximately 12% over Beijing numbers.  While other factors undoubtedly helped play a role, all of this social usage may have helped impact who was viewing too.  Reports show that viewership among teenagers was up 27% from Beijing; and for kids 2-11, viewership was up 32%.

Clearly social media is helping people make connections with others who are watching the same thing – just as they once did around the water cooler for episodes of Cheers or Seinfeld.  However, digital coverage brought in only about 5% of London Olympic Ad revenue.  So, while NBC received plenty of negative feedback for tape-delaying coverage, which diluted the ability of social media users to talk about the games in real time, the jury is still out on how the network will change its model for the next iteration of the games.

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