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NBC Turns to Digital Influencers to Draw TV-Averse Millennials to Olympics Coverage

NBC’s headaches in Rio include well-publicized hazards like the Zika virus and shaky infrastructure. But the network faces another conundrum with this summer’s Olympics — how to get Americans who don’t watch traditional television to consume the content.

Meet Flula Borg, part of the Peacock’s big new plan to get TV-averse millennials hooked on Rio. The German DJ and comedian, who has 779,000-plus YouTube fans and appeared in “Pitch Perfect 2,” is producing a series of videos for NBC featuring U.S. Olympic athletes including Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Maya Moore, and Claressa Shields.

Michael Phelps, I am making the hottest jam you have ever heard in your life!” Flula exclaims in the first video, inviting the amused Olympic swimming champion to freestyle-jam with him.

It’s the tip of the javelin for NBC’s social and digital campaign for the Rio Games, which run Aug. 5 to 21. For the first time, the company is diverting a chunk of its Olympics marketing spending to social influencers, encompassing deals with more than two dozen digital stars who collectively have 120 million followers across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine. NBC has also enlisted a team of 12 producers at BuzzFeed, in which it acquired a $200 million stake last year, to produce original content for a dedicated Olympics channel on Snapchat.

To kick things off, NBC has tapped Ryan Seacrest to host the first “Social Media Opening Ceremony” July 26 at the Jonathan Club on Santa Monica Beach. YouTuber iJustine is on board as red-carpet correspondent, with a slew of digital stars, talent from NBCUniversal shows, and athletes set to mingle at a Brazilian-style BBQ.

“The 2016 Olympics will be by far the most social Games we’ve seen,” says Seacrest, who is NBC Olympics’ late-night TV host.

That’s undoubtedly true, if only because the social universe has exploded over the last four years. But there’s still a question of whether NBC’s manufactured social content will foster a new generation of Olympic fans.

Young people aren’t exactly the prime audience for Olympic events like track and field. In fact, for the two previous Summer Games, the median age of U.S. viewers has risen — from 46.9 for the 2008 Games in Beijing to 48.2 for 2012 in London, per Nielsen.

Buzz Machine
NBC wants to lure younger viewers to the Olympic Games with digital and social content
120m Number of social followers for NBC Olympics’ influencer partners
$100k Cost of a branded-content campaign with a top-50 YouTube star
$1.2b Amount NBCU paid for rights to the Rio Summer Games

That’s still about a decade younger than the average broadcast primetime TV viewer, notes NBC Olympics chief marketing officer John Miller. Plus, those Nielsen measurements skewed older than NBC’s internal data showed, because they excluded viewers streaming on smartphones and other devices. For the London games, multiplatform viewing among teens 13-17 rose 25% versus Beijing, while among kids 2-12 it was up 35%, according to Miller.

“It’s not that we’re trying to ‘age-down’ the Olympics,” he says. “It’s that we’re trying to get everyone in the household to watch the Olympics.”

The content produced for YouTube, Snapchat, and other digital outlets is engineered to target demographic groups likely to miss the barrage of on-air spots that hit NBCU networks hit during the two weeks before the Games. Specifically, on the social front, NBC recruited social influencers to reach females 13-34. (The overall Olympics audience skews toward women, at 53%.)

According to Miller, the hope is that young people will watch the Olympics via their parents’ pay-TV subscription or on broadcast TV, or at least click over to the free content on NBCOlympics.com.

Content from the social opening ceremony, which starts July 26 at 6:30 p.m. PDT, will be splashed across NBC Olympics channels on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram (and the feeds of international fiesta-goers, execs hope). That will continue into the following week, with content from the remaining influencers starting the week of Aug. 1 leading into the Rio games.

NBC worked with Seacrest’s Civic Entertainment Group marketing-services agency to identify the influencers for the Olympics push. Talent and content partners include Fine Brothers Entertainment, Jerry Purpdrank, Amanda Cerny, Tiffany Alvord, Hannah Bronfman, lifestyle blogger Marianna Hewitt, model Julia Friedman, BuzzFeed’s The Try Guys, and about 250 bloggers in SheKnows Media’s network. Others slated to attend the July 26 event include Olympic medalists Janet Evans, Tara Lipinski, Jason Lezak, and Dawn Harper-Nelson, as well as Melissa Rivers of E!’s “Fashion Police” and “Today” contributor Giada De Laurentiis.

The Peacock also pacted with Spotify and two musical acts, Nervo and the Chainsmokers, to create playlists on the streaming-music service inspired by the Olympics.

NBC pegs the value of its multiprong marketing campaign for the Rio Olympics at $100 million. Miller won’t reveal what NBC is spending on the social and digital side, but he expects about one-third of Olympics marketing impressions to be seen online.

In any case, the 2016 Olympics influencers tie-in is in the upper tier of social campaigns in terms of scope, says Trygve Jensen, VP and GM of influencers at the video-tech firm Zefr. “It’s a big change from what NBC’s traditional strategies have looked like — they’re going to be getting millions of views across platforms,” he says. “Influencers will change the way people experience the Olympics…. In the future, this will be a big part of tune-in campaigns.” (Zefr did not work with NBC on the Olympics’ social campaign.)

Top digital influencers are expensive. Campaigns can run north of $100,000 per activation for the 50 biggest YouTubers, according to industry execs. On a cost-per-engagement basis, such deals range from 10 cents to 25 cents per view, including production costs. That’s much higher than conventional ads, but well-designed social-branded content has a commensurately higher impact, says Pete Borum, CEO of Reelio, an influencer marketing-technology company.

“Having someone I admire and trust tell me about a product or talk about it leads to traffic that converts at a much higher rate than traditional ads,” he says. “What NBC is doing is a recognition of that.”

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