So finally the Olympics in Rio have begun, kicking off today before the opening ceremony on Friday with the start of the football tournament. The world is watching Brazil, quick to comment on the facilities, the health scares, the doping scandals and – hopefully – the sport.

But this Olympics may be remembered for something different. In times gone by, the major broadcasters dictated what the audience would watch. American channel NBC time-shifted all the swimming events in the 1996 Atlanta Games so US swimmers could compete at prime time viewing. And because the Internet was in it’s infancy – actually, it was barely a fetus at that time – that worked really well as the general public didn’t have access to the results, even though the competition was earlier in the day.

Fast-forward to London 2012, and this Olympics became the first Games that wasn’t curated; you could watch whatever you wanted to watch, when you wanted to watch it. It was a tremendous leap into on-demand technology, successfully completed by the BBC.

London 2012 also started something else – the athletes themselves took to social media as never before and shared their own experiences.  They didn’t wait until the host broadcaster stuck a microphone in their face – they Facebooked and Tweeted with abandon.

The tone was set at the opening ceremony for London 2012, with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, tweeting live from the stadium as part of the spectacular climax. According the book “Social Media in Business and Governance”, in the two weeks of London 2012, 150 million Olympic tweets were sent, with Usain Bolt attracting the highest rate of Tweets Per Minute when he won his 200m gold.

And now Rio. This will be the millennial Olympics, with people born between 1982 and 2000 competing and succeeding. This generation reaches for Snapchat and Instagram as easily as they reach for a bottle of water. The head of social media for the International Olympic Committee, Alex Huot, believes we are likely to see “the biggest ever conversation” during the Games.

And that conversation will more than ever involve video. A study by social influence marketing platform Crowdtap believes users of social media will not just be looking at the sport, but also paying more attention to the cultural aspects of the Games. And what a difference four years makes.  In 2012, Snapchat was only just emerging. Now there are more than 100 million users and Crowdtap’s survey reveals 18% of the viewing audience will also be using Snapchat to discuss what they see while also watching live coverage.

And just to loop back to American network NBC.  For the first time, it’s spending a vast chunk of its Olympic budget on social influencers, having made deals with digital stars with a collective 120 million followers across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine, plus producing a dedicated Olympics channel on Snapchat.  It’s definitely come out of the dark ages.