NBCUniversal is partnering with TikTok for the Winter Olympics

With the Winter Games in Beijing on the horizon, NBCUniversal will team up with TikTok for an advertising partnership to promote the network’s coverage of the Olympics. NBCUniversal told TechCrunch that its advertising partners will be the first brands to pilot a new, creative ad experience on TikTok.

TikTok and NBCUniversal did not elaborate on how these ads will be different from existing ones, but both companies have explored social shopping as of late, which could be a potential avenue for their partnership. NBCUniversal will still work with other social platforms such as Twitter, which will host a live show and highlights.

According to NBCUniversal, Olympics-related content has garnered over 18 billion views on TikTok, so the network directly invited TikTok to collaborate on 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics content. This includes daily content across NBC TikTok handles, as well as a three-episode livestream show hosted by a yet-to-be-named TikTok creator.

“The Tokyo 2020 Games highlighted our community’s appetite for sports-adjacent content that shows a different side of the Games and the athletes, creating new avenues and content strategies for brands — including NBC — to engage with and entertain them,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch. “While this partnership does present unique opportunities for NBCUniversal advertisers, it also includes a robust slate of content that NBC will share across its TikTok accounts, including daily posts showcasing everything from highlights to topical trends, and three livestreams hosted by a TikTok creator. The athletes’ stories and journeys are an integral part of NBC’s coverage of the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, so fans can expect to see them on TikTok across their handles.”

This summer at the Tokyo Games — which were pushed back a year due to COVID-19 — TikTok emerged as an unlikely hub for behind-the-scenes content from international athletes. When Suni Lee placed first in the all-around gymnastics competition at the Olympics last summer, how did she celebrate the achievement of a lifetime? She ordered pizza and danced on TikTok with her gold medal, garnering 31 million views. The prevalence of Olympians on TikTok garnered an unlikely audience for the global event. You might not have ordinarily paid attention to Olympic Rugby, but after following athlete Ilona Maher on TikTok, maybe you’d tune in to the NBC broadcast.

In that regard, this partnership makes sense — TikTok has proven to be a unique way for fans to experience the international competition. But from a tech perspective, NBCUniversal’s TikTok partnership raises some questions. Headquartered in China, Bytedance is the parent company of TikTok, but TikTok is not available in China (Douyin is Bytedance’s China-specific version of the app). Typically, people in China wouldn’t be able to use TikTok due to internet censorship in the country. But Olympic athletes and foreign media in Beijing are allegedly being granted special SIM cards that offer uncensored internet access. Even if athletes have access to social media, they may not be posting carefree videos — the United States Olympic organizing committee warned athletes to assume that “personal communications will be difficult at best while operating in China.”

Meanwhile, nations like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have announced diplomatic boycotts of the games in Beijing, protesting human rights abuses against mostly Muslim ethnic minorities like the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region of China. After urging from human rights groups, NBCUniversal has said it will provide “geopolitical context” during its broadcast of the controversial Games.