Thousands of reporters will be descending on Rio this week ahead of the Olympic Games. Among them — 15 YouTube stars, sent by Google to, in part, live stream events. But, are these personalities — who Google says will cover "everything from their own commentary of the Games’ celebrations, from the first victory to the last defeat, to long days around Rio on bike rides" — journalists?
“This is the big question about social media in general," Jonah Berger said, a professor of marketing at at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and author of "Contagious – Why Things Catch On."
A big shift is happening from traditional journalistic outlets, such as the New York Times and NPR, to YouTube channels, Instagram accounts and Vine. Times have changed. No longer do viewers need to wait until evening prime time news to get coverage. Today's YouTubers, like Liza Koshy, Brodie Smith, Ben Brown, Caeli, Chloe Morello, and Felipe Castanhari, represent a new kind of press corps. It can be hard to make a comparison. Bob Costas or Brodie Smith, a Youtuber, whose popular videos of him playing Frisbee can rack up tens of millions of views.
"You cannot believe how popular some of these YouTube stars are," Berger said. "You may not have heard about them all, I haven’t heard of them of all of them, but among certain pockets of the population, particularly, younger folks, they’re hugely and immensely popular."
And their millions of followers will follow them to Rio — virtually.
"They’re not trained as journalists," Berger said. "Are they able to report on things happening? Certainly. Are people getting as much from their coverage? Well, that’s not entirely clear."
But one thing that is clear, Berger says — in some senses, YouTube is trying to kill television. Thus its efforts to cover the Olympics, one of the most important events out there.
“Youtube is hoping to be your one stop shop for any sort of entertainment. No longer will you need an actual television, except to watch things on YouTube," Berger said.
"Younger audiences are wired into short videos and instant access to videos," Rick Edmonds said, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute.
"They have kind of transitioned to a point where their main way of getting information is through the new media and social references — SnapChat, Google, Facebook, etc.," he said. "We certainly know many of them don’t read print newspapers anymore."
"We want our information, and we want it now," Betsy Page Sigman said, a professor of operations and information management at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. "Especially the millennial generation." Google owns YouTube, so she says not only will it be creating content, it will also help users search for Olympic coverage with special features — like a sports tab.
“The sports tab is going to list all the 42 distinct disciplines that are out there and talk about previously awarded medals by team and athlete,” she said.
According to eMarketer, an estimated 2.85 billion users will stream the Olympics — in some form. So Google's sports tab, which will also be a magnet for search ads, could allow the search engine to bring home a different kind of gold.