My first memories of the Olympics were from the Atlanta Summer Games in ‘96. I mostly remember watching swimming, gymnastics and track events, but more vividly, I remember spending that time with friends and family, sitting around the TV in the family room, watching primetime NBC. That was the extent of my Olympic consumption — and everybody else’s that summer. That was before you could watch the Olympics on what seems like a dozen different cable channels at any hour of the day. That was before live streaming online, before social media, before anyone with a smartphone was suddenly a reporter live on the scene.

Those Olympics in Atlanta were 20 years ago, but even the standard four years in between summer games can seem like an eternity in the world of technological advancements. That means every time there’s a new Olympics, there’s a stark contrast in the technology people will use to consume it — and watching the 2016 Games in Rio is certainly no different.

Rio collage

Photos by: Jorge Andrade [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons; U.S. Army (Lighting of the Rio Olympic Games cauldron) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons; Roberto Castro/ [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons; Agência Brasil Fotografias [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In the four years since the London Games, we’ve seen Snapchat rise from a little-known newcomer to the world’s hottest content sharing and messaging network. Facebook is now one of the most valuable companies in the world, and has doubled down on video content, live streaming and covering major events. Instagram now supports minute-long videos and has become a cash cow for Facebook. And just in time for the Olympics, it released its Snapchat direct-compete feature, Instagram Stories. Given the global impact of the Olympics, I could imagine Instagram made it a priority to launch Stories before the torch was lit and games began.

Now the big trend is the rise of visual commerce. NBC, the exclusive broadcast provider for the Olympics, recognized these shifts in the way visual content is created and consumed. Given the hefty $1.23 billion dollar price they paid for rights to the Games, they made an investment in partnerships with social networks and media partners, knowing that our attention spans can no longer be contained to our television sets in the living room. Given the huge scale of everything happening in Rio (live competition, interviews, athlete sing-a-longs, or just a day-in-the-life of a fan or Rio tourist), NBC is doing its best to capture every single moment of these games and all but ensure there is no end to the content we can discover. The Olympics is a two-week, 24-hour bonanza of content creation and consumption unlike anything else in the world.

For the 2016 games in Rio, NBC partnered with social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, as well as media partners like Mashable and Buzzfeed, to create special channels where they can share Olympic content. Each day, NBC and their partners produce quick highlights from Rio to be shared online. Despite their best efforts, Facebook was unable to convince NBC to live stream the events through Facebook Live, but NBC will use Facebook to air live interviews and commentary (NBC will be streaming events live online from their own platforms).

While NBC has historically had a stronghold on the Olympic content and distribution, the rise of social video has created new opportunities, and there is no better way to get a first-hand Olympic experience (outside of actually going to Rio) than by following the athletes themselves on social. The USA men’s basketball team has already proven to be Snapchat superstars in the lead-up to the games, after sharing a video of the team singing along to Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” and photos of them modeling team USA’s Ralph Lauren designed opening ceremony uniform. Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, two of the most-decorated Olympians of all time, have already begun to provide fans with a glimpse into their daily workout and eating regimen. USA’s new superstar gymnast and fan favorite, Simone Biles has been documenting her budding relationship with Brazilian gymnast Arthur Nory Mariano all week.

NBC also tapped into social media stars, like Logan Paul and Amanda Cerny to bring their own brand of comedic content to Rio. While not athletes, Paul and Cerny are widely popular among Instagram and Snapchat’s young audiences, and can grab the attention of fans who may not be as open to following NBC’s or other media partner’s social accounts.

It’s easy to see why the Olympics are such a draw. It’s a worldwide, cultural sporting event that has a little bit for everyone. Stories can range from inspiring to quirky to controversial, and the cast of characters (both heroes and villains) is not only long, but refreshes with each new lighting of the torch. And although only a select few from around the world are able to travel to Rio this summer, there are plenty of opportunities to make it feel like you’re part of the action — and this year, visual content is leading the way.

Curious about how to take advantage of your visual content? Check out our recent study The State of Visual Commerce. You’ll learn which image types rank as most important to a visual marketing strategy, discover which channels are leading and lagging in visual commerce and learn the biggest challenges in driving e-commerce revenue with images.