2016 Olympics Lighting Up Social TV

As the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro come to an end, Canvs is taking a look at how the world’s largest sporting event is resonating with viewers. For this year’s Games, NBC is broadcasting over 2,000 hours of linear programming across its 11 networks, with an additional 4,500 hours streaming on NBCOlympics.com. 219 million people tuned in to the 2012 Olympics and even more viewers are expected this year.

Canvs has long known that sports are the biggest drivers of Emotional Reactions across all TV programming and the Olympics are no exception, as viewers take to social media to express pride for their country’s athletes and comment on the popular events. With so many eyeballs on Rio and emotions flaring, we wanted to breakdown which events, moments, and athletes have been making audiences feel.

Opening Ceremony: A Long Walk to Victory

The 2016 Olympics kicked off on August 5th with a stunning and colorful Opening Ceremony that featured samba drumming, a noticeably long (and allegedly final) runway walk by famed Brazilian supermodel Gisele, and the debut of the first refugee team. In total, the event drove 335,960 Emotional Reactions among the Tweets provided to Canvs by Nielsen Social. Most viewers expressed ‘love’ towards the Opening Ceremony and the many celebrities and athletes shown in NBC’s broadcast.

Swimming: Feeling Phelps

Swimming is consistently one of the most popular sports among American viewers and this year was no exception. Much of the sport’s popularity can be traced to one athlete: Michael Phelps. With 22 Gold Medals to his name and 28 total, Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time and his success has driven millions to tune in to the swimming events. Swimming in his fourth Olympics, Phelps won five gold and one silver at Rio, driving a staggering 350,000 Emotional Reactions as he did so. 33.8% of these Reactions expressed ‘love’ and another 13.3% expressing ‘crazy’.

On the women’s side, the U.S.’s Katie Ledecky found resounding success, taking home 4 gold and 1 silver for her efforts. Ledecky’s most memorable moment came when she won the 800m by an unheard of 11 seconds. Viewers reacted to the win with a similar mix of awe and admiration that Phelps received; 41.3% of Emotional Reactions expressed ‘love’ and 30.0% expressed ‘crazy’.

Gymnastics: Nothing But Smiles for Biles 

With its flashy uniforms and awe-inspiring acrobatics, gymnastics is one of the sports best suited for social media, where impressive feats can be easily packaged into GIFs and distributed across the web. This year, all eyes (and Tweets)  were on 19-year-old Simone Biles, the most decorated American gymnast of all time.

Biles won four Gold Medals with her participation in the Women’s floor exercise, Women’s individual all-around Women’s team all-around and Women’s vault. Biles win in the all-around competition was the most Emotionally Reacted to moment of NBC’s August 11th broadcast, driving 28,147 Reactions in the five minutes following her victory. A majority (35.2%) expressed ‘congrats’, with 9.2% of Emotional Reactions expressing ‘crazy’, seemingly in awe of Biles’ accomplishment.  

Women's Soccer: Hope and Heartbreak

While American athletes found gold in gymnastics and swimming, they were less successful in soccer. After winning three straight gold going back to 2004, the women’s team was a strong favorite to win again in Rio. Ultimately, though, they would only make it to the quarterfinal, losing to Sweden in a heartbreaking penalty shootout.

Star goalie Hope Solo was upset following the loss, telling reporters “We played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly, firmly believe that.” Solo’s comments mirrored the frustration of fans in the U.S., who undoubtedly were disappointed with the subpar result. Following the loss, 13.3% of Emotional Reactions expressed ‘sad’ and another 16.9% expressed ‘dislike’.

Other viewers were less upset than shocked, as they clearly expected the team to beat the Swedes. 27.5% of Emotional Reactions following the loss expressed ‘crazy’.


With a few more days left  and dozens of events and a closing ceremony still to come, there is still plenty of time for viewers to join the online conversation. Even so, one thing is already clear: the inspiring achievements of the U.S. athletes have brought Americans together on social media to collectively share in the glory of victory. At Canvs, the last two weeks have us expressing ‘congrats’ to our champions.