While the world's greatest athletes compete for gold in Rio, the United States' biggest social media platforms, namely Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Snapchat (Private:CHAT), are competing for audience engagement during the Olympics. It is a year of several firsts in the sports media space, and a year that marks a crucial turning point in how users consume sports media.
Following Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) striking several sports content deals related to MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL content, NBC has struck Olympic content deals with Snapchat and Facebook, marking the first time that NBC has released Olympics highlights to non-NBC networks. Interestingly, TWTR did not make a formal partnership with NBC this year despite having one in 2012 (the platform is likely focused on the upcoming America sports season). Beyond NBC, Facebook inked a deal with the International Olympic Committee, marking the first time the organization has collaborated with a social media platform.
To provide more context, we have broken down what each platform will be delivering to users by way of Olympic content. Here's what Facebook and Instagram are offering:
- NBC will post highlights and recap videos to Facebook and Instagram, including a two-minute recap video for each day on Facebook and a slow-motion, inspiring video each day on Instagram.
- Through partnerships with 20 other official broadcasters, Facebook will provide live programming via Facebook Live and even more video highlights of the events.
- Facebook Live also will feature exclusive interviews with athletes and other behind-the-scenes content. Facebook is apparently paying some athletes, including swimmer Michael Phelps, to use Facebook Live throughout the Olympics.
- The IOC will build a chatbot on Messenger that users can interact with to receive live updates, among other things.
- Instagram will host several channels dedicated to the Olympics within the Search and Explore section.
- Content posted on Facebook and Instagram will be incorporated regularly into NBC TV coverage.
- An open-camera feature, a la Snapchat, will allow users to post pictures with filters, stickers, and frames and will be incorporated into the News Feed. This feature, located atop the News Feed, will only be available to users in Brazil and Canada.
Here's what Snapchat is offering:
- Olympics-themed filters, stickers, and lenses will be incorporated into the app.
- A temporary NBC Olympics channel will be added to Discover. The channel's content, produced by NBC, will feature highlights and behind-the-scenes content.
- A curated Rio 2016 channel in the Live Stories section will offer a more personal, behind-the-scenes look into Olympics events. This will only be available in select countries, including the US, UK, Canada, and Brazil.
It looks like Facebook has the early lead here. Before its partnership with the IOC and other broadcasters, it looked like Facebook and Snapchat were about even in terms of volume of added features and content (both just had NBC deals in place). The recent IOC deal, however, added a chatbot to Messenger and lots more content to Facebook's entire ecosystem, giving the early lead to Facebook/Instagram.
Beyond these features, though, each platform will be able to leverage their Olympic athlete user base to generate unique and more personal content. It seems like athlete-generated content is mostly a competition between Instagram and Snapchat. Articles are circulating around the Internet about which athletes to follow on Instagram and Snapchat, but no such articles exist for Facebook.
Nonetheless, the world is interacting with the Olympics primarily through Facebook. Facebook generated 109 million interactions from 52 million users on opening night. A majority of that use was Latin American usage, with 13% of Brazilian MAUs, 7% of Mexican and Argentinean MAUs, and 5% of Peruvian MAUs interacting with Facebook on opening night. That usage will likely accelerate with the new IOC deal.
As with the Snapchat versus Facebook battle at large, Olympics coverage seems to be a tug-of-war between informal but more personal silly pictures and videos with fun filters (Snapchat) and more formal but less personal serious news coverage and interviews (Facebook). Facebook, though, is making attempts to be a source of more personal silly pictures and videos with fun filters. Recently, the company essentially copied one of Snapchat's core features and incorporated it into Instagram. During these Olympics, Facebook is testing a fun filter open camera while delivering a differentiated chatbot, and is aggressively tapping into live content.
While Facebook does appear to have the early lead over Snapchat in terms of sports content, this competition is far from the Medal round. We are still tracking early in the story of users consuming sports through social media. This is, after all, the first year NBC has made such content available to non-NBC networks, yet it is already having a material ripple effect. TV ratings of the Opening Ceremony in Rio were down 35% from London in 2012 and notched their lowest total since Athens in 2004. This is entirely due to changing media consumption habits, and means a promising opportunity for both Snapchat and Facebook into the foreseeable future. Both platforms stand to be big winners as a result of these Olympics.
It is interesting to note that Facebook was unusually quiet about its user engagement at the 2012 Olympics, so the fact that the company is boasting its 109 million impressions on opening night in 2016 implies this time around is proving to be a lot more successful. This also is supported by the IOC finally collaborating with Facebook. This all makes sense, as 2016 is a different world than 2012. Cord-cutting is much more prominent, and mobile media consumption has just exploded in terms of growth. As media consumption continues to shift to mobile, Facebook has a promising opportunity to engage sports fans in a succinct, convenient, and meaningful way. For all social media platforms, the 2016 Olympics serve as key transition to a new era of mobile sports media consumption.
Disclosure: I am/we are long FB.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.