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Feb. 12, 2018, 9:46 a.m.
Reporting & Production

Here are the digital media features to watch during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics

VR, AR, a podcast, messaging apps, Snapchat shows, voice devices, Uber rides, and more.

Each edition of the Olympics offers a shining host city, compelling tales of athletic triumph, and an opportunity for news organizations to test out new storytelling technology with a meticulously scheduled global event.

The 2018 Winter Olympics are no different, with Pyeongchang, South Korea partnering with its feisty neighbors to the north, the image of an Olympian redefined in the U.S. after gymnasts testified against their doctor convicted of sexual assault, and news organizations exploring all realms of media to cover the Games. Frankly, there’s a lot going on.

Here are some of the Olympic digital news coverage experiments to keep an eye on during the Winter Games, running until February 25. See others? Speak up!

NBC (+ Snapchat + BuzzFeed)

The proud owner of the Games’ American broadcast rights, NBC has a combination of live/virtual reality video, a collaborative podcast with Vox Media, and of course Snapchat up the wazoo, thanks to NBCUniversal’s prior investment in the company.

On the NBC Sports VR app, footage is available to watch on VR headsets like Google Cardboard/Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets — or you can just watch it with your phone. (Tilt your phone to see more of the scene.) At the outset of the Games, it showed some behind-the-scenes of the crowd streaming into the stadium and Olympians preparing to compete — but do people watch the Olympics for the immersive experience or the breathtaking stories of sport?

For the latter, NBC is broadcasting much of the Games live in what it’s calling the “most live Winter Olympics ever,” including a portion on Snapchat. It will introduce the Snapchat Live tool designed for TV networks, according to Digiday’s Sahil Patel, to cover key moments of the games. They’ll also utilize cards built into Snapchat’s Our Stories to show the Games’ schedule, medal counts, etc. and launch a handful of new shows on Snapchat Discover. The shows clearly fit Snapchat’s quick-paced, flashy style, which NBC News has already been practicing with its twice-daily show. The shows feature the trials Olympians face to compete and the stories of how they made it to the Olympics in the first place.

Screenshots from the two Snapchat shows; the left image shows 17-year-old Hailey Langland as she tries to win a spot in the competition, and the right shows snowboarder Ryan Stassel talking about how he worked in the fishing industry to pay his way to the Games.

But Snapchat also rolled out its promised major redesign just before the Olympics began, frustrating teens who felt like “for the first time, [they] felt like an old person trying to use a piece of new technology,” The Daily Beast’s Taylor Lorenz reported. Users have also circulated a tweet falsely claiming that Snapchat would reverse the update based on the number of retweets — making it the sixth most retweeted tweet of all time. It’s unclear how the update has affected Snapchat’s user numbers and NBC’s views on the platform during the first few days of the Winter Olympics.

BuzzFeed (in which NBCUniversal also has a hefty investment) is working with NBC to craft content for Snapchat, similar to their arrangement in 2016. And The Hollywood Reporter’s Natalie Jarvey also notes that special car coverage from NBC will be shown to Uber riders (not necessarily in South Korea) during the Games via the Uber app, showing “exclusive ‘in-car’ interviews as [athletes and announcers] travel to and from the various Pyeongchang venues.”

Viewers can also satiate their thirst for the stories coming out of the Olympics with NBC’s podcast partnership with Vox called The Podium. (They’re promising “K-pop, of course. Lots of K-pop.”) The Podium was introduced in December, with early episodes focusing on the global political and cultural context of these Games, but it also includes an Intel-sponsored episode on how technology is changing the Olympics. (You’ll never guess: NBCUniversal is also an investor in Vox Media.)

The New York Times

As my colleague Ricardo Bilton reported, The New York Times has brought back its personal messaging feature connecting readers to an on-the-ground reporter. Instead of using SMS, as in the 2016 Olympics, the team has revamped it to run through their mobile app (much cheaper than mass texting, they learned!) and to personalize content sent to users based on specific sports interest.

“One of the big benefits here is that we do control the whole space,” Troy Griggs, graphics editor at the Times, told Ricardo. “So much more is on the table now. Any interactive experience we build now we can tie together in a way that we wouldn’t be able to elsewhere, even on Instagram or Snapchat. We can really integrate our content and experience in a way that is new.”

On the heels of its augmented reality announcement — “Something profound has happened to your camera” — the Times has also introduced Olympics coverage in AR. Its first feature explores the multidimensional dynamics of Olympic bodies and Graham Roberts, the director of immersive platforms storytelling, described the project’s development (in the humbly-titled “How We Achieved an Olympic Feat of Immersive Journalism”):

Bringing the four Olympians into augmented reality required finding a technique to capture them not just photographically, but also three-dimensionally, creating a photo-real scan that can then be viewed from any angle.

We asked each athlete to demonstrate his or her form at specific moments. Nathan Chen held a pose showing exactly how he positions his arms tightly to his body during his quads to allow his incredible speed of rotation. Alex Rigsby showed us how she arranges her pads to best guard the net from a puck traveling at 70 miles per hour.

For the AR experience, we placed these scans into context — for example, placing Nathan Chen at the 20-inch height off the ground he would be midquad, based off photo reference and sometimes motion capture. In your space, this will truly be a distance of 20 inches because this is all true to scale.

The full AR experience is available in the Times’ iOS app, with some nifty-but-sub-AR visuals also available on the website. The Times also translated its AR feature into four pages of print.

The Washington Post

In 2016, the Post used a bot to write certain Olympics results stories (there are a lot of events!). This year, the Post’s Olympic Twitter bot is generating “short multi-sentence updates” about medals won in all events with a medal tally twice a day and reminders before events from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. EST, though the Messenger bot does not seem to be running this cycle.

The Post also introduced an AR quiz-based game in its classic app for users to play with the speeds of competitors in nine Winter Olympic sports. (I correctly guessed the four-man bobsled over downhill skilling.) I’m not sure what more the AR component added beyond an in-the-room experience as the mini Olympians raced over my desktop keyboard versus just keeping the game within the app, but this game could ride high on the group sofa competition HQ Trivia has thrust upon us.

The paper’s Olympics coverage also includes a daily newsletter and, in a nod to the Post’s recent lean toward demystifying the jobs of journalists, first-person accounts of covering the Games from rookie Olympics reporter Chelsea Janes.

Other ways news orgs are Olympic-izing

Image from the 2018 Pyeongchang Opening Ceremonies courtesy of the Republic of Korea used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Feb. 12, 2018, 9:46 a.m.
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