NBC Inks Deals with Digital Celebrities to Promote Olympics

To lure millennials to watch the Rio Olympics, which run August 5 to 21, NBC is enlisting 24 Internet celebrities to build buzz. For the first time, NBC is using a portion of its marketing budget on digital influencers such as German DJ/comedian Flula Borg, who has 779,000+ YouTube fans, to appear in videos with U.S. Olympic athletes, including Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Maya Moore and Claressa Shields. The YouTube celebrities tapped for videos have 120 million followers on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine.

According to Variety, this move is “the tip of the javelin for NBC’s social and digital campaign” for the Olympics. In addition to the Internet stars, NBC added 12 producers at BuzzFeed (in which it has a $200 million stake) to produce original content, which will run on a Snapchat channel dedicated to the Olympics. The target is females ages 13 to 34, because the “Olympics audience skews toward women, at 53 percent.”


Ryan Seacrest, who is NBC Olympics’ late-night TV host, kicked off the festivities with NBC’s first “Social Media Opening Ceremony” on July 26 at the Jonathan Club on Santa Monica Beach. At a Brazilian BBQ, iJustine acted as red-carpet correspondent for athletes, digital influencers and actors from NBCUniversal shows.

NBCUniversal did not reveal what portion of the overall $100 million marketing campaign was spent on digital influencers, but they can cost more than $100,000 per activation for the 50 biggest YouTubers, notes Variety, or, seen another way, range from 10 cents to 25 cents on a cost-per-engagement basis (including production costs).

Although that’s much more expensive than a traditional ad, the impact is “commensurately higher,” says Reelio chief executive Pete Borum. “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 said. “What NBC is doing is a recognition of that.”

Whether the campaign works as planned, however, remains to be proven. According to Nielsen, the median age of U.S. viewers for the past two Summer Games rose “from 46.9 for the 2008 Games in Beijing to 48.2 for 2012 in London.” NBC Olympics chief marketing officer John Miller notes that the numbers “skewed older than NBC’s internal data” because Nielsen did not include viewers watching on smartphones and other digital devices.

Miller reports that, “for the London games, multiplatform viewing among teens 13-17 rose 25 percent versus Beijing, while among kids 2-12 it was up 35 percent.”

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

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