The International Olympic Committee’s Jérôme Parmentier on Olympic viewing habits in the era of TikTok and Netflix, and what this means for media rights.

What trends are you seeing at the IOC from a media perspective, in terms of how sports content is consumed and the impact this is having on broadcasters and media platforms?

Our distribution strategy has been and remains guided by one principle, which is to reach the widest possible audience. We want to stay core to the value of universality of the Olympic Games, and reflect that with the way we distribute our broadcast rights. We put ourselves under obligation to secure free-to-view coverage. What matters to us is that the fans can watch the Games for free on a platform.

Where we do see an opportunity for the Olympic Games in the fragmentation of media is as a way to display all of our content. A summer Olympic Games produces up to 10,000 hours of content. If you take the pre-digital age, it was physically impossible for, say, the BBC, or media rights holders to broadcast 10,000 hours of content in 17 days, so you could not avoid warehousing. Some sports didn't make it and, if you were a fan of that sport, you were struggling. What digital has allowed us to do is to place an obligation on our broadcasters through their digital platforms to put those 10,000 hours out. This is a huge advantage for an organisation like ours because we need to capitalise on the content from those 17 days as much as possible.

In other words, you see a positive in the fragmentation of audiences, in so far as communities are able to come together and follow their favourite sports, no matter how niche?

Fragmentation helps us to go and recruit casual viewers where they are. We know Gen Z consumes a lot of content on social and digital platforms. It’s for us to tailor our offering on those platforms, to make something that is relevant to their users. And it's usually a shorter experience, a bit more edgy, a bit more dynamic. The challenge is when doing this on our social accounts, like TikTok, for example, how do we incentivise those Gen Z to come and watch for longer on our media rights holders? We know the business model of sports in general cannot rely on social platforms.

How do you handle relationships with platforms like TikTok and Instagram for rights, alongside using those platforms to publish your own content?

We use them in a multitude of ways. As an institution, we of course use them organically. We also have commercial discussions, because they want to make the Games an event on their platforms and they want to use some of our IP, like logos, data, a little bit of footage etc, and also to promote our other commercial stakeholders. How can we use our social media accounts, like TikTok, to send traffic to our media rights holder NBC in the US, for example?

We know the economics of those deals at this point in time aren’t comparable to the economics with our broadcasters. The idea is that any deal with those platforms supports the deals we have with broadcasters and sponsors, and drives more engagement and audiences to the consumption of the Olympic Games.

Have you discussed rights with digital platforms like Amazon and Netflix? Or do the economics prevent those kinds of partnerships from happening?

I do see the traditional players as most likely to support sport and to continue to aggregate those big audiences by the nature of who they are. And those traditional players are transforming their business model to OTT. You see it with Peacock, Max or Disney+ competing with Prime and Netflix. Discussions with streaming platforms remain so far around telling stories but could include live rights in the future. We launched ‘The Redeem Team’ on Netflix in 2022 and we have a lot of conversations about telling the Olympic story. The difficulty for us comes back to that very first principle of achieving the widest possible audience.

The storytelling side of sport is a growing trend. Is this a way to engage a younger or lighter sport audience? And how do these opportunities dovetail with your strategy around live sports?

I want those opportunities to support our main rights holders. When we have a conversation with Netflix around storytelling, what we want for that conversation is two-fold: it’s to engage that casual audience who is consuming the ‘The Last Dance’ and ‘Tour de France: Unchained’; but we also want to benefit from their firepower, in this case in the lead up to Paris. We want to make sure that if we have a release on Netflix in May or June, this builds up the audience on our media rights holders, like NBC or WBD in July, and that this is part of a promotion plan and a storytelling plan so that everybody wins.

How do the trends we’ve discussed help brand advertisers and sponsors engage with the Olympic Games and with sports fans?

We still see huge traction for brands from big events. What is changing is the way they activate their sponsorship. Especially with a property like the Olympic Games where you don't have advertising boards around the field of play, we make sure that activation opportunities for our top sponsors remain state of the art. We do see that sponsors want to activate more and more around content.

At the same time, you see broadcasters wanting to promote their own brands more thoroughly, because they're going direct to consumer, like Warner Bros. Discovery wanting to promote Max. We have a convergence in behaviour of our two business streams which creates a grey zone, and this is a challenge for the future. We have to create opportunities where everybody can fulfil their objectives by respecting the rights that they have

Looking forward to Paris 2024, what predictions do you have on how the Games will be consumed, and what trends we’re likely to see versus previous Games?

We couldn’t be more excited ahead of Paris after two Games in a very challenging environment. Coming back to Europe 12 years after London is very exciting, because, from a time zone perspective, it puts us in between the US and Asia. From a broadcast perspective, the rights for Paris are distributed globally, we're sold out, so we're going to have coverage in every single country in the planet on a free-to-air basis. What we can’t control is whether people watch.

Another question is the mix between linear and digital. In the last two Games, digital-only consumption was only 10-15%. I assume it will be higher this time, but how much higher is the question. We’ll know on 13 August. And I'm very optimistic also on advertisers – we see very positive signs in the US and in France as a host country. 

This is an abridged version of the full interview.

For more on sports media trends, click here to read WARC Media’s latest Global Ad Trends report.