I Watched the Entire Olympics on Snapchat

Snapchat’s Stories view of the Rio 2016 Olympics

Those summers, I remember my mom taking us to Walmart.
Time to stock up on VCR tapes.
And the marathon would begin: Recording every single event, every hour that was live of every channel possible of the Olympics. It would be 3+ weeks of non-stop Olympic medals, commentary, judging, screaming, tears, and ‘U — S — A.’

But it wouldn’t end at the end. No.
Instead, since she recorded EVERYTHING — we would continue watching. What we missed. Rewatching what we didn’t miss. Pausing. Rewinding. Every minute.

At some point, it was too much. Maybe it was because it extended into football season. Maybe because we only had one TV. But I stopped caring about the Olympics because I just…wanted…it…to…end.

So this time around, I wasn’t even paying attention. Rio? Huh?

And it’s interesting because, if it weren’t for Twitter, I probably would have not even known it was coming. Social chatter caught my eye. But I don’t have cable. Don’t really read news sites. Don’t browse random, useless sports sites. I would have never known the Olympics were coming if it weren’t for a few of my friends making some comments.

I began to wonder: “I wonder who cares about the Olympics anymore.” Because it didn’t strike my interest and hasn’t for a while. Posting something on social usually garners some response and I was testing to see the sensitivity to my apathy. I also asked around.

Here’s the survey results:

  1. A few people cared
  2. Many didn’t.

Some thought they would watch highlights, some full events, some would watch nothing — like me. And then I had a few responses on social including one friend who works at NBC. Of course Howard was going to tell me to watch. “Best coverage ever” he posted. I asked, “Where do I watch if I don’t have cable?” And he says, “Check out the website!”

Coming through Disney in the first years of streaming video and running TV shows online, watching TV online now seems outdated and a bit foreign for me. Go find a computer, type a URL, go find a destination, and then watch bits and pieces? I’m too lazy and it’s out of my way. I want it hand-delivered. Just the best parts. If I even cared to watch, which I really didn’t.

The Games start, I guess. Only know because it’s in the paper, it’s in People mag, it’s on the Internet. See little bits of comments from friends. Cereal boxes. Pre-roll. Etc.

Thinking more about it, it’s really about my time. I burnt out of the fan following a long time ago. Now with a wife, four kids, a job, side hustles, and not being into sports all that much, following hundreds of events and burning time on the effort of trying to find the best moments — it’s just a time suck. And I don’t have extra time. I don’t have time for it. Do any of us have time for it?

And then I was on Snapchat. Like every 5 minutes. I’ve dedicated back to Snapchat after giving Instagram Stories a try. Since I’m time-starved, I picked one = I like Snapchat. Snapchat is where it’s out. Browsing my Stories for the day, I find there’s a section about Rio 2016. Huh. Let’s see what this is all about.

And then I spend about 8 minutes watching highlights, fan snaps, commentary, athlete snaps, results and more. Taking a snap myself, I see that there’s a medal count filter — up to date with the latest medal counts as it happens.
I realized I just watched the Olympics.

NBC was smart. They got me. And every other night since then, I’ve been following Rio 2016 Olympics on Snapchat. It’s not over-produced but still thoughtful. 8–10 minutes every other day, about 4–5 video ads per session. I loved it.

Snapchat checks off what you watched

Why? Turns out I don’t hate the Olympics — I hate the format. Snapchat reinvented the format.

Here’s why it works on Snapchat:

  1. Short clips, fun style, filters, real moments (not talking heads)
  2. Everything from a fan’s POV.
  3. If you watch a clip, it checks it off so I know I don’t need to watch it again.
  4. Clips automagically move forward.
  5. All clips checked off? You are done for the day and can go back to your regular Snapchatting.
  6. Bonus: Need a quick medal count? Swipe twice and your medal count filter is right there.

Saturday was Haircut Day. So I head over to Sports Clips and chat with Dusty, my stylist. Olympics are on and I joke about how she has to watch it ALL DAY since she works…at Sports Clips. She said she doesn’t pay attention really — she’s not into it. I tell her my little story above and she laughs and says that that is the only way she knows what’s going on, because it’s too hard to follow otherwise.

Going back to the survey, I wondered how many other people were watching on Snapchat. Heading to the App Store, I was interested to note this: First five apps for the Olympics are sports apps. App Number Six? Snapchat. Followed by Twitter. No other social media even in the count.

Stay with me here, so if Snapchat is loved by millions = millions have access to the new format of the Olympics. Short, clippy, progressive, accessible, and fun. Twitter doesn’t have it in the same way — it’s hidden in Moments (who goes there?).

Snapchat puts the Olympics directly in my line of swipe — featured Story of the day, and I watched it all.

So where’s our giant friends, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube? No where to be found. I couldn’t find fresh Olympics content to save my life on either platform. Just snarky Olympic lifeguard gifs and Michael Phelps reruns. Maybe this is why Facebook is so desperately propping up Live so they can become the next broadcast TV. But I don’t think it will work like that. It’s the same broadcast format, just in a new channel. Snapchat has something different.

Snapchat is not dead. The Next Web and others try to claim that Facebook and Instagram Stories will kill Snapchat. I don’t see it. Snapchat has a long road, but they literally changed the game and NBC was smart to get this right. I wasn’t the only one watching.

Snapchat could change the face of sports viewing for the demographics that care less and less about long-viewing sports (golf, baseball, NASCAR, even football and basketball). The sports viewing format on Snapchat is concise, organized, structured as a checklist, and auto-progressing, leveraging consumer journalists and athletes for a 100% authentic experience.

And we know there is a major shift happening: NBC’s TV ratings for the Olympics are down 17% compared with the 2012 Summer Games in London, Bloomberg reports. The stark reality is that TV’s role in media consumption patterns is less important than ever. Audiences are more fragmented and harder to reach, especially younger audiences, whose Olympic viewership has plummeted by 25–30% compared with four years ago. TV ratings are no longer the ultimate measurement of success.

Howard said, “Best coverage ever.” I balked, but in a way, he is right. Short, clippy, progressive, accessible and fun. Hand-delivered. Just the best parts. And it made me care to watch — because it was real, not packaged. Snapchat has something going — it could be the future of sports, or maybe what even saves sports for viewers like me and other Millennials who don’t have time and don’t care that much. Snapchat & NBC enabled the format so I could care. And I cared more than I remembered.

Thanks, Mom. Miss you.