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Options aplenty: Why livestreaming will go mainstream at Rio 2016

There’s no question that livestreaming is becoming massive. Especially in sports.

And while Rio won’t be the first livestreamed Olympics, it is shaping up to be the Olympics in which live streaming takes center stage – and potentially forever changes the way consumers experience the event as traditional media and platforms alike compete with athletes and attendees for consumer attention.

A study from media and marketing services firm Mindshare found 88 per cent of viewers who said they will watch the Olympics plan to watch on TV. In addition, however, Mindshare found 71 per cent prefer to watch live and 38 per cent said they’re generally on their phones when watching an Olympic event while 35 per cent said they are generally on social media.

Consumers eager for live Olympics content have plenty of options

Per official broadcast network NBC, the 2016 Olympics will feature 4,500 streaming hours, including live streaming of all competition. In addition, viewers will find “an active news desk that will regularly stream Olympic updates throughout each day.”

By way of comparison, NBC said it streamed 3,500 hours for the 2012 London Olympics, which was the first time all competition was streamed live.

“I think NBC was very smart to embrace live,” said Brian Shin, CEO of video analytics firm Visible Measures. “It’s somewhat selfish as the goal is to have the total live viewership number be as high as possible to justify the large ad fees they’re charging and they are doing an integrated ad deployment, so they want to portray the total live audience as larger than just TV, but TV will take the lion’s share.”

For his part, Andreas Goeldi, CTO of video advertising platform Pixability, noted as the main rights holder in the US, NBC is parceling out streaming rights selectively, keeping the main events on its own platform.

That means live streams elsewhere will feature supplemental content, like behind-the-scenes footage and highlights — with plenty of platforms ready to take full advantage.

NBC Olympics and Snapchat have partnered to present what they call “unique perspectives” from Rio, which will include daily Snapchat Live Stories and an NBC Rio Olympic Discover channel, which will be available to U.S. Snapchat users “for over two weeks around the Games.” NBC Olympics said it will co-produce the Discover channel with news and entertainment network Buzzfeed.

Autumn Nazarian, senior vice president of Mindshare Spotlight, the sports and entertainment partnership unit of Mindshare, noted savvy fans are already following athletes’ journeys on Snapchat – even before the launch of the Discover channel.

“To see what Snapchat does is going to be very interesting – Facebook and Twitter and YouTube really do have Snapchat envy,” Shin said. “Snapchat’s approach is like a curated Live Story around these events and I think we will see more and more older people using Snapchat as a content discovery tool as opposed to a content creation tool. They will look at Live Stories to see the events they care about.”

NBC Olympics, Facebook and Instagram are also partnering to “bring fans together with unique content” that “will fuel buzz around NBC Olympics’ 6,755 hours of programming,” including Facebook Live interviews with commentators and athletes.

However, Shin noted Facebook is “hit or miss” because users sometimes “see content that’s awesome, but they can’t seek it out.”

As a result, he said, “Snapchat and YouTube will be the winners of the Olympics from a platform perspective.”

YouTube has partnerships with broadcasters, who will share highlights, which YouTube said will link directly into Google Search and YouTube Watch Cards. In addition, YouTube has teamed up with 15 influencers, who it said will use its mobile live streaming feature to “share real-time moments from Brazil…as well as 360-degree videos that will make fans feel like they are on the streets of Copacabana.”

Meanwhile, Twitter added a Rio 2016 section to Moments. In addition, it said Periscope and Vine will feature Olympics content and a bus called “Twitter Buzz” will display live tweets and Periscope broadcasts on routes around Rio.

The average (and not-so-average) Joe and Jane get involved

But, for the first time in Olympics history, live content creators will also include athletes and spectators.

According to Goeldi, this means not only more behind-the-scenes access, but for marketers, specifically, there’s an opportunity to get in front of more selective audiences in terms of volume and granularity.

“There's of course more ad inventory as the amount of Olympics content available increases, which makes it easier and presumably cheaper to target an audience,” he said. “Furthermore, because so many sports are available online in parallel, it also becomes easier to reach fans of a particular sport, or even fans of a specific athlete, with tremendous precision.”

However, Luke Watson, platforms expert at live streaming network Roker Media, noted NBC and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have the authority to maintain control with official sponsors and athletes, which they may exert to the detriment of those parties while unaffiliated brands and consumers can exploit the games with few restrictions or consequences.

“With that in mind, the word ‘exclusivity’ is key,” Watson said. “NBC and the IOC should do everything they can to ensure that their own channels and sponsors get content that is far superior by leveraging exclusive access to athletes and venues, despite the fact that they will still be competing with so much that is unofficial and, most likely, good enough for most viewers.”

But this very “good enough” content is part of what Watson noted marks the true democratization of media in live steams.

“Where traditional, corporate-controlled media has failed us, personal live streaming has the ability to pick up the slack, making every witness a citizen journalist,” Watson said. “I’m interested to see how personal, live streams from attendees of the Rio Olympics compare to official broadcasts and streams and if they are enough to satisfy mainstream interest. My hunch is that effortless ubiquity will trump production quality and we’ll find ourselves watching whatever is delivered to us automatically by our social media feeds more often than we type in N-B-C-.-C-O-M. It may even keep us from turning on our TVs. How will NBC and the IOC respond when every attendee is a competitor to their broadcast interests?”