NBCUniversal decided to turn over the keys to its Snapchat account to BuzzFeed for the Olympics. The move seems to have paid off to the tune of 35 million viewers over two weeks.

In April, the media giant announced a partnership with Snapchat, under which it would distribute Olympics-related content on the media and messaging app. The content was available in two ways: a pop-up Snapchat Discover channel and multiple daily Live Stories. Across both, NBCU totaled 2.2 billion views and 230 million minutes of consumption, the company said.

With the Discover channel, NBCU gave near-total editorial control to 12 BuzzFeed video producers it had invited down to Rio (NBCUniversal invested $200 million in BuzzFeed last year). “We would talk to them every morning — what we were focusing on and the stories that were emerging, and there would be some coordination that way,” said Gary Zenkel, president of strategy and operations for NBC Sports Group and president of NBC Olympics. “But we did not want to impair their ability to exercise and flex their creative muscles for that day’s edition.”

Headquartered with NBCU in the International Broadcast Center and traveling all around Rio, the BuzzFeed team produced up to 20 pieces of content for each daily edition. The content had very little to do with the actual competitions but instead focused on the athletes and atmosphere in Rio.

For instance, after Michael Phelps finished his Olympics, he visited the IBC to meet with the media — a common part of a medal-winning U.S. Olympian’s itinerary. While Phelps met and was interviewed by Bob Costas and Telemundo, he also set aside time for BuzzFeed. Four producers from the BuzzFeed team spent a few minutes shooting Snapchat material with Phelps. In the next edition, viewers saw Phelps’ face swapped with various other famous Olympians, among other Snapchat-centric content. Other BuzzFeed-produced Rio Discover content included a series of videos and images that showed the funny faces athletes make during the heat of battle.

“They took athletes and presented them in a way that we historically haven’t,” said Zenkel. “It was designed for the Snapchat audience.”

Beyond Discover, NBCU and Snapchat teamed to curate anywhere between five to seven Live Stories every day of the Olympics. BuzzFeed did not contribute to this content, instead it was pulled from NBC Sports’ 10-person social media team, athletes, celebrities, social influencers and even fans on the ground in Rio.

“What we discovered was that there was such an appetite for this, that it made sense to create several Live Stories during the day,” said Zenkel. “They would spend one Live Story on beach volleyball alone.”

NBCU and Snapchat did not disclose how the 35 million viewers broke down between Live Stories and the Discover channel. But, overall, these were NBCU’s most social Olympics ever. In addition to the Snapchat work, the company also partnered with Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to push out all sorts of video clips on those platforms. On Facebook, for instance, NBCU published nearly 900 videos during the games including 160 Facebook Lives. The content generated more than 600 million views, the company said.

It’s an open question on whether social helped or hurt TV ratings, which were down 17 percent in prime time when compared to the 2012 games in London. Among 18- to 34-year-olds, prime-time viewership was down 30 percent from London. Two-thirds of NBC Olympics’ viewers on Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube were under 35, the company said.

NBCU argues that social helped drive viewership. A study it commissioned from Shareablee found that 84 percent of millennials who watched Olympic highlights on social media watched NBC’s prime-time coverage. NBCU isn’t likely to walk away from social platforms during future Olympics.

“We have a better sense of what’s working here, and we’ll take that and add it into the sponsorship and advertising equation that we offer advertisers across TV, mobile, web and now social,” said Zenkel.

Image via Fotolia / readytogo

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