Longtime Olympics broadcaster NBC Sports first began live streaming the event in 2008, when Beijing hosted the Summer Games. A total of 630 million video streams were watched by viewers worldwide that year.
Eight years later, the just completed 2016 Olympics look to be the year that live-streaming of the competition went mainstream, as NBC registered a surge in online viewership this time around while the number of people who watched on television declined. Shanghai-based Alisports, a division of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, said it saw similar success streaming the Olympics in China through a partnership with online video hub Youku Tudou.
A total of 7.5 billion streams were watched by Olympics fans in China, according to newly released figures from Alisports.
Alisports last month had announced a licensing agreement with Chinese state-owned CCTV to stream the Rio Olympics via Youku, which is also owned by Alibaba, albeit with a 30-minute delay to CCTV’s own broadcast. About 380 million viewers logged on to watch, Alisports said. That’s almost half the size of the traditional television audience of 793 million claimed by CCTV.
And those streamers did so using mobile devices by a large majority, further confirming the mass migration to mobile from desktop PCs and laptops in the world’s largest consumer market. Alisports said that 78 percent of viewers watched via smartphone or tablet versus 20 percent and 2 percent, respectively, via PC and TV.
The company also aired original programs as part of its Olympics programming in addition to streaming the sporting events themselves. The shows, including Champs & Stars, A Date With Stars, Eyewitness Rio, Fitness Prescription, Shopping Rio and Game On, were streamed not just on Youku but also Taobao and Alipay. In total, Alisports original programing received 3.8 billion views, the company said.
On one episode of Champs & Stars, where former Olympic champions met online with athletes competing in Rio, 2004 volleyball gold medalist Yang Hao interviewed Zhu Ting and Hui Ruoqi, members of this year’s gold medal team. The segment earned 4 million views, the program’s highest for the duration of the Olympics.
But it wasn’t a match—or race or fight or jump—that garnered the most views for Alisports. In fact, it was a CCTV interview with Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui, who became an overnight internet celebrity when she attributed her performance in the 100-meter backstroke semifinal to her “prehistoric powers.”
Fu earned a bronze in the final, tying for third place with Canada’s Kylie Masse. But despite China’s well-known obsession with gold medals, Fu’s facial expressions and on-camera antics made her a national hero and fueled internet memes for the entirety of the Games. And t-shirts and phone cases emblazoned with her best one-liners have become hot items on Taobao.
Only after Fu did any of China’s gold medal athletes rank among the top streams for Alisports during the Rio Olympics. The women’s volleyball gold medal match against Serbia was number two, with Sun Yang’s winning swim in the 200-meter men’s freestyle final coming in at number 3.