TikTok becomes the Olympics' breakout media platform

·2 min read

Data: Team USA; Chart: Connor Rothschild and Danielle Alberti/Axios

TikTok has become the breakout media platform during this year's Olympic Games, boosted by its heavy use by young athletes.

Why it matters: Unlike the social media apps that came before it, TikTok's algorithm is built so that almost any person can go viral overnight. No other medium has ever given athletes, particularly ones that weren't famous before, that same level of instant exposure.

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  • This is especially true for younger athletes who have grown up in a mobile-first world that's dominated by social media. The average age of a U.S. Olympian this year is 26.

  • Because the short-form video app makes it easy to combine text, music and video at the same time, athletes speaking different languages can still go viral all over the world.

Details: Athletes' videos, which have racked up millions of views in the past few weeks, offer a true, behind-the-scenes look at what's happening in Tokyo.

  • Some of the most viral clips take viewers to places where TV cameras can't go, like bedrooms, showers, training gyms, cafeterias and everything in between.

  • Other videos showcase intimate, unscripted moments that are rarely captured by the media. U.S. diver Tyler Downs got over 3.5 million likes for his video reacting to seeing his crush Simone Biles on a bus ride.

  • TikTok videos also reveal what it's like to compete during a pandemic. Some show athletes submitting to COVID-19 tests, while others reveal the safety precautions taken in places like dining halls.

Without spectators this year, some of the most viral TikTok clips have been friends and families of athletes reacting to their loved ones' performances from afar.

  • A video posted by the Detroit Lions — showing the nervousness of quarterback David Blough reacting to seeing his wife, Melissa Gonzalez, compete in the women's 400-meter hurdles — quickly went viral, racking up over 2 million likes.

The big picture: It makes sense that platforms like TikTok are stealing the spotlight, given how fractured the U.S. media environment has become.

  • Broadcast ratings for the Olympics have plummeted this year, thanks to an uptick in social media and streaming video consumption.

The bottom line: In a world of fractured attention and pandemic-induced separation, TikTok has also acted as the connective tissue between athletes and fans around the world.

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