How the Rio 2016 Olympics Got It Completely Wrong with a 2008 Social Media Strategy

With the proliferation of different ways to consume content, the International Olympic Committee’s strategy for the Rio 2016 Olympics was to – wait for it – place a blanket ban on videos and unofficial commentary on social media. You can’t even use the #USAOlympics hashtag if you’re a brand. (Am I a brand?)

I get it: NBC owns the rights to the broadcast and sponsors have spent hundreds of millions of dollars for the right to promote the games. I’d even go as far as to agree with a ban on livestreaming events outside of official channels. But, denying consumers an expectation to watch key moments after the event has already happened reeks more of an organization interested in financial gain, not global unity.

Indeed, ratings have been well off the heights seen with London 2012. Sagging television ratings across the board have led networks to embrace alternative ways to attract viewers. And one of the most successful has been establishing word of mouth through social media.

There’s no better example of social media spurring growth than with two of reality television’s stalwarts: Survivor and The Bachelor. Having seen sharp ratings declines in the late 2000s with the arrival of cable prestige drama, they turned to social media to increase awareness of their 2010s seasons: contestants were allowed to tweet and behind the scenes videos were launched exclusively on Facebook and YouTube. What happened to both series was impressive— though other reality television titans were sinking for not adapting to the shifting media landscape, ratings for both increased. The last season of The Bachelorette was Twitter’s #2 most talked about series and trailed only the most-watched show on television, The Walking Dead.

Which brings us back to the Olympics. Just last week, I missed Katie Ledecky’s insane world record where she finished ahead of her competitors by over 11 seconds. I tried to find a tweet or Facebook post that captured the winning moment. The closest I got was a New York Times animated GIF simulating the race. Eventually, I saw someone’s iPhone-recorded footage of their television showcasing the moment. It was akin to watching shakycam footage of a Taylor Swift concert on YouTube*.

NBC finally uploaded a clip the next day but the excitement was gone, the emotional effect dampened. How am I meant to support Team USA if I’m railroaded into a singular means of viewing? Not having a full suite of television channels means that I’m stuck with NBC and USA Network highlights, so I can’t watch live even if I wanted to. In 2016, there is no one form of media superior to any other. In fact, embracing cross-channel marketing might actually spur increased ratings for traditional media consumption, as evidenced above.

I’m optimistic that the IOC will take notice of the backlash and change course for Pyeongchang 2018. In the meantime, I’ll be consuming content strategies actually befitting of 2016.

* The joke here is that unofficial Taylor Swift concert videos on YouTube are swiftly** deleted by her management.

** LOL.

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