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Aug. 18, 2016, 12:18 p.m.
Audience & Social

What it takes to manage a daily popup Snapchat channel from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio

A dozen producers from BuzzFeed are working around the clock to curate the channel, with access to NBC footage.

The people on the BuzzFeed team on the ground in Rio producing the NBC Olympics daily Snapchat channel are night owls — by necessity.

nbc-buzzfeed-snapchat-lochte-thoughts“Because most of the action happens in primetime, you can’t get around the fact of working a really late night. Something will happen in primetime and we will have to cover it,” Andrew Gauthier, executive producer of BuzzFeed Video, told me. “We have a certain mix that we try to achieve in the channel, but it’s really loose. And it’s loose because we don’t know quite what the stories are that will emerge. Simone Biles had an incredible performance. But then that same night you also had Simone Manuel, and I don’t think anybody was really anticipating her to be the story it was. You can only prepare for so much.”

Gauthier is in Rio as part of a team of 12 producers curating NBC’s competition footage, writing Snap-worthy stories, interviewing and shooting original footage of athletes, creating BuzzFeed’s bread-and-butter lists, and making games and quizzes that users will want to #engage with — at least 14 pieces of content per day, though the team’s been averaging more than that. The channel is branded with the NBC Olympics and Rio logos, and the only tangible BuzzFeed stamp is its presentation (“WTF?!? Lots Of Weird Dancing And Epic Fails On Day 10,” “11 Incredible Sandcastles In Rio”).

nbc-buzzfeed-snapchat-subscribedThe popup Snapchat Discover channel, which launched on August 4 and will close up shop August 22, is part of a partnership between NBC and Snapchat that also includes Snapchat-curated live stories around the many different Olympic events. NBC is selling ads for the channels, working with the Snapchat sales team. (It declined to share details such as revenue split.)

TV viewership of this year’s Olympics is down from the London games four years ago, especially in the 18- to 49-year-old age group. Meanwhile, Snapchat claims it reaches 41 percent of all 18- to 34-year-olds in the U.S. on any given day. And BuzzFeed itself is an obvious choice to help mold NBC content for social platforms: In addition to a $200 million investment from NBCUniversal last August and growing ambitions in video, BuzzFeed has been able to hone its craft for more than a year on its own Snapchat Discover channel.

The BuzzFeed staffers working on NBC’s Rio Olympics Discover channel are technically part of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, though “there isn’t a huge distinction between Motion Pictures and the rest of BuzzFeed,” according to Gauthier. (The line between BuzzFeed News and BuzzFeed Motion Pictures has been a source of confusion in the past. Gauthier was careful to emphasize that there are separate BuzzFeed News staffers in Rio also covering the Olympics, and that the Snapchat Channel “is not BuzzFeed News.”)

The BuzzFeed Snapchat team has access to NBC’s Olympic footage (BuzzFeed.com is benefiting from the access, too; fo the rest of us, the IOC says NO GIFS FOR YOU). It also gets help accessing Olympic locations and athletes. The team, split between the International Broadcast Center in Barra da Tijuca (home to Olympic Park and Olympic Village) and the beach in Copacabana, also has access to NBC studio space at each location. (Picture BuzzFeed’s table, right next to Lester Holt’s Nightly News broadcast.) A few others are out and about in between, ready to film anything else that might come up.

“That’s the way it’s been working, around the clock. The channel goes live at 6 a.m. EST, and typically we’ve been working until around 4 a.m. local time to finalize each edition,” Gauthier said. When an edition is almost done, the BuzzFeed team will work with the NBC Olympics digital team to review it, but NBC has been mostly hands off when it comes to the channel contents. “With the BuzzFeed site or the social accounts, or even on the live broadcast, you’re constantly updating things, you’re able to publish stuff whenever it happens. In the channel, we have to wait it out for everything to come together before we publish it.”

Some things have already been filmed in advance — a supremely BuzzFeed-esque segment with Ryan Lochte trying to guess “which purse is more expensive,” for instance — but the majority of videos featured were shot hours before going live in the channel, Gauthier said. BuzzFeed staffers in its New York and L.A. offices are also helping out, including supplying some of the illustrations and articles.

nbc-buzzfeed-snapchat-share“The team here in Rio is multi-hyphenate. No one has a really rigorous focus on one aspect of production, and that’s allowed us to be nimble,” he said. “This was totally new for us, and we didn’t quite know logistically what to expect, although NBC prepared well for it. Sometimes a story will emerge and the way to cover it is not necessarily a video — it’s an article that features a bunch of clips. We’ve had to make a lot of graphics, so Photoshop skills come in handy. And then the ability for one person to go on a shoot, shoot the whole thing, and immediately also start editing it, that’s also been incredibly useful.”

The team evaluates what performed well in each day’s edition, and uses the metrics as guidance in shaping the format and order for the next day’s edition. (BuzzFeed declined to share any numbers for the Olympics Channel; president of NBC Olympics Gary Zenkel told the Wall Street Journal “millions” have been viewing the channel.) From experiences with the main BuzzFeed Snapchat Discover, the team knew editions around single themes don’t perform as well as regular editions. But the popup channel “is its own beast.”

“There’s a lot of nuance here. It’s not that we see one thing doesn’t work and we adjust it,” Gauthier said. “We’ve learned that variety is important. We’ve been impressed with how interested viewers have been in highlights and competition footage. Stuff around the identity of the athletes, what they’re like personally and their relationships with others, has been important.”

With some help from NBC, it’s been easy for BuzzFeed to get athletes to participate in various gags for the channel: Many of the competitors are young and active Snapchat users themselves and are open to things, especially after they’re finished with their own events.

“One thing we’ve been really focused on is how viewers are interacting with the Olympics on a personal level,” Gauthier said. “The behavior in Snapchat is different than just watching on TV. We want to create things that feel fun, fresh, and new. When we film things with Olympians, we also want them to feel relatable.”

“The funny thing is, we can position a lot of things as really amazing, or the best possible thing to happen,” he added. “It’s a little funny that when you’re covering the Olympics, there is no such thing as hyperbole, because something happens and it’s literally historic, it’s literally the greatest thing to ever happen in that sport.”

POSTED     Aug. 18, 2016, 12:18 p.m.
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