NBC's social media 'war room': a new weapon in Games coverage

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Staffed by millennials and crammed with computer screens, the social media “war room” of U.S. Olympics broadcaster NBC is starting to call more of the shots in the company’s mission to generate a healthy return from Olympic sports.

Employees work on their computers inside a room at NBC's broadcasting center in Pyeongchang. NBC Olympics/via REUTERS

The room, housed inside NBC’s multi-story broadcasting center at the Pyeongchang winter Games, is a world away from the nearby control booths where staff produce traditional broadcasts for TV and online-streaming audiences in the United States.

A few dozen workers post videos, photos and memes on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snap, superimposing a bleating goat over a ski jumper’s face or trying out other ideas that might go viral.

At 9 a.m. in Pyeongchang, a South Korean ski resort, it is already evening prime-time in the United States, and the room is packed with employees of NBC or its partners such as Snap and Buzzfeed, searching for the content that will catch fire online.

Some don’t even look at footage of the sports action.

“They are looking in the stands. They are looking at random feeds. They are the ones seeing when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tweets at us,” said Lyndsay Signor, who oversees the war room as NBC’s director of sports consumer engagement.

The team once spotted a video of a stray walkie talkie tumbling down a ski slope, followed by workers trying to catch up with it. The clip has around 1.5 million views on Facebook.

NBC’s parent, Comcast Corp, paid more than $7.75 billion for the rights to broadcast the Olympic Games to U.S. audiences, up until 2032. Most of its Olympic revenues will come from selling TV advertising or from subscriber fees collected from pay-TV operators that carry its coverage.

But social media generates a growing stream of ad revenues and helps drive younger people to watch NBC broadcasts.

The social media room is in constant contact with NBC’s “highlight factory” in Stamford, Connecticut where highlights are cut from raw footage and posted across all NBC platforms.

“It’s probably 50 people at one time who might touch a piece of social content,” Signor said.

For action that unfolds when American viewers are asleep, the room prepares “waves” of content timed for release during U.S. prime time.

On Wednesday, it readied a wave of social media coverage on U.S. snowboarder Shaun White becoming the most successful snowboarder in history with his third Olympic gold.

The hottest social-media properties for NBC at these Games include figure skaters Adam Rippon -- who Signor calls a “soundbite machine” -- and Mirai Nagasu who this week became the first American woman to land a triple axel jump at the Olympics.

Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are also drawing plenty of interest online.

“They’re very attractive and they won gold for Canada so we are seeing a lot of traction with them,” Signor said.

Editing by Mark Bendeich