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Gareth Capon | What NBC’s push into Twitch means for the Olympics

Gareth Capon, chief executive of cloud video platform Grabyo, gives his assessment of the recent deal between NBCUniversal and Twitch to deliver a channel entirely devoted to the Olympics

Grabyo CEO Gareth Capon (Credit: Grabyo)

A few weeks ago NBCUniversal announced an agreement with Twitch to deliver the first Twitch channel entirely devoted to Olympics content. 

The channel, which will be produced directly from Tokyo, will feature a mixture of NBC’s presenters and Twitch talent with primetime side casting and interactive virtual experiences giving new ways for fans to engage with the Games. 

With this deal, NBC is able to target a valuable audience demographic, with 41 per cent of Twitch users being aged 16-24 and 32 per cent aged 25-34. This is the network’s latest attempt to engage with a broader audience through social media after extending its content partnership with Twitter in October 2020.

This is good news for the International Olympic Committee, which gains a new distribution channel for the Games and the opportunity to reach an audience that might not watch the events on NBC network television. In addition, NBC and Twitch will collaborate on selling advertising for the service, opening up a new digital revenue stream.

NBC will need to deliver new and exciting content that aligns with fan experience on Twitch. This means a live experience designed specifically for the platform, including interactive live shows, athlete interviews, and gaming-themed competitions. Twitch is built on live engagement from fans, a participation experience allowing users to impact the format of the show, or get direct feedback from the creators. This is quite different to the traditional TV studio setup favoured by TV networks that cover the Games.

NBC will likely use this partnership to drive higher fan participation with its content. Using other Twitch initiatives, including well-known streamers, it will try to keep the Olympic flame ‘alive’ via viewers’ participation, which leverages Twitch’s USP for viewers.

This should be seen as a positive move to reach a younger demographic, a challenge that faces much of the live sports industry. Average viewer age for TV has been increasing for most major sports in the last decade, and broadcasters need to offer services on platforms where fans spend the most time. The Olympics compete with a multitude of other entertainment platforms, including gaming and digital viewing experiences, for the attention of younger consumers. Moving the Olympics to Twitch is a positive move to address this challenge. 

The gamification of content on Twitch is an element that NBC will need to engage with heavily if it wants to capitalize on Twitch’s userbase. Fans want to be close to the action and feel that they are part of the broadcast, and by using social gamification features, the broadcaster will be able to create a sense of community. Integrity and authenticity matter for successful live broadcasting on social media platforms. 

Twitch’s chat feature will allow for viewers to directly interact with athletes, with NBC planning to host fan Q&As pre- and post-event in real-time. This new approach to connecting athletes and fans is an attempt to make a new generation of Olympic fans feel part of the event, with participation from users linked directly to longer watch times and better audience retention on Twitch. 

The IOC will welcome the move to extend the reach of the Games for new audiences. The IOC itself recently announced that it has partnered with five international sports federations, game publishers and DreamHack Sports Games to launch the first official Olympics event for physical and non-physical virtual sports. 

The ‘Olympic Virtual Series’, will be launched ahead of the rescheduled 2020 summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and will look to target the same audience as NBC’s deal with Twitch. 

Fans will have the opportunity to engage with and follow the events on the Olympic Channel from anywhere in the world. The esports broadcasts, hosted on social platforms, will drive fan engagement and create an entirely new community, giving the IOC a new way to build its audience and interact with its existing fans. 

NBC and the IOC have shown the desire to create a format that matches up with the viewers’ needs, driving fan engagement in the younger demographic on platforms and in formats they are comfortable with. This should put them at an advantage going forward in the battle for live sport.

The target audience for Twitch and esports will expect a certain production quality, as well as ‘in-game’ cameras to capture different angles, in-game data displays, or supplementary content such as player views and replays.

Twitch is also an extremely competitive market, with 9.5 million active streamers and an average of 2.9 million average concurrent Twitch viewers as of February 2021. These numbers show how much NBC has to compete with, especially as they are bringing a new style of content to the platform. 

The potential for direct fan engagement, sponsorship opportunities, and content innovation on Twitch is significant, but there are real challenges to make this a success. NBC and the IOC must focus on optimizing their content to align with the high expectations of sports fans if they are to capitalize on this opportunity. 

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