In 2013, Code and Theory was selected to design and develop the NBC Olympics site for the 2014 Sochi games. That website was a new benchmark in streaming video content, offering users unprecedented immersion in the thrill and drama of the competition. Before Sochi, live-streaming video at the scale of the Olympics was unheard of. But despite the time zone-related challenges of a Russian host city, our 2014 Sochi website allowed Americans to watch at home and at work. In fact, users across the world enjoyed an Olympics site that brought them the events live, with no tape delay. With over 70 million unique visitors, NBCOlympics.com was the second largest media website in the world...for 16 days.
Shortly after the games ended, NBC Sports selected Code and Theory to look two years into the future and design a system for the 2016 Rio games that would offer the best Olympics experience for a second time.
The Olympic Games represent a rare opportunity to create one of the most compelling visual and thrilling experiences on the web.
2400 Pieces of Content Every
During the previous Olympic games, site visitors consumed over 10.8 million hours of online video over the course of the competition—averaging out to 111.4 minutes of video per viewer. Without a doubt, the single largest editorial challenge of the Olympics became editing, curating, and publishing over 2,400 pieces of content every single day.
Beyond simply managing content volume, NBC Sports editors are always juggling a rapidly changing list of content priorities. Creating a story arc on a given day can range from simple articles and a video stream, to a fully immersive experience with multiple contributors and viewing formats. The Rio site needed maximum flexibility to allow different content types and volumes without slowing down the publishing process or sacrificing the designed experience.
Design for Everyone
NBCOlympics.com visitors hail from around the world and represent every demographic and background. Many users know exactly what they want, others want to be inspired, and some simply want to explore. These different user mindsets require advanced design and consideration to accommodate varying levels of lean-back and lean-forward content. Traditional barriers to entry needed to be lowered in order to facilitate engagement, and more complicated consumption behaviors needed to be thoughtfully supported.
New Visitors, New Fans
Typically, when a user visits a site they have a singular purpose in mind, like online shopping or news consumption. The Olympics, however, offer a rare opportunity to serve content and experiences to visitors who are willing to change their behaviors. By developing an architecture and content strategy based on three primary user groups (The Casual Consumer, The Occasion Drive Consumer, and The High Engagement Consumer), we were able to progressively excite visitors, making them true fans.
The platform must allow to anyone to enjoy the show: from casual visitors to extreme fans, the website should accommodate all levels of understanding of the games and potential engagement.
Video on the Pedestal
Exclusive video content makes NBCOlympics.com, above other sites and social, the destination for the Olympics. Though television may be the primary means of consumption for fans, the way people consider online streaming has changed enormously since 2014. Now, fans of all ages recognize the web as a relevant and critical channel in their content consumption.
With a drastic increase in video to be streamed for Rio, the site design needed to adapt accordingly and place a higher emphasis on video content.
A Rhyme and a Rhythm
The Olympics have natural peaks and valleys of content availability throughout a given day—which means delivering a consistently exciting experience regardless of what was going on in the games was critical. To augment content peaks, we articulated our design strategy by:
- Creating features and modules that can optimize peaks during the 16 days
- Offering content packages to better leverage the high-interest moment
- Promoting marquee events to drive engagement
To maintain user attention and induce excitement, the modular system created rhythm in the structure and variation in the density. Offering modules with distinguished visual and content density—while maintaining familiarity among evergreen content—were key tactics for keeping users engaged for as long as possible.
Design for Producers
Designing for high-velocity publishing is largely about editorial workflow. We created a system that allows producers the freedom and flexibility to make the most of the content, while maximizing consumer engagement.
Dynamic backend content aggregation and a more efficient CMS workflow still support a manual editing process, but editors now had access to smart content packages. This combination of a human touch and smart automation allowed producers and editors to facilitate a highly crafted and curated narrative, customizing the page for peaks and lows, dense or expanded structures, and different levels of user engagement.
A Video-Centric Platform
When a user visits NBCOlympics.com, they are quickly immersed in a video-centric experience that showcases the depth and breadth of available streaming content. Demonstrating the concept of streaming video to less savvy visitors was critical, all while elegantly pathing digital natives towards where they wanted to go.
The Thrill of the Games
The Olympics is about participation. We wanted the users to feel like they were part of the games. Key features like the Live Event Video Page provided a single location for not just the event video stream but all related content for the event, both manual and dynamic. Users enjoyed a full experience: watching the streaming video while browsing through the best pieces of content, video highlights, expert social commentaries, as well as real time results and players stats.
The Rio Feed offered a unique way to consume the deluge of Olympic content in real time, as it is published across various sport fronts and event detail pages. The feed repurposed this existing content and served it on a single page with no content packaging or layout changes required. This abundance of content was specifically meant to balance the careful editorial curation of the homepage.
Data Wins Gold
One of the key roles of the site was to make sense of the massive amount of data generated during the games. Our data architecture centered around using information to help users appreciate the thrill of the events.
THE MEDALS RACE PAGE
The Medal Race page offered an interactive comparison of the medal race between the top three countries, displaying in rea time the top 10 countries sorted by total medals wons. There were even filters available by sport, event type, or specific athletes and countries.
THE RESULTS PAGE
The result pages displayed the most recent event results, including medal and non-medal events. That included a high-level, visual representation of results for the given day, total events scheduled for the day, medals awarded, world records broken, and Sports in Action.
THE SCHEDULE PAGE
The schedule page offered a quick view of all current live events, in real time. Every event included a corresponding live stream and link that sent users to the event player page. Display order was based on start time, engagement or by manual pinning content to different areas of the page.
As one of the biggest events worldwide, the Olympics website sees millions of unique user impressions per second. From a tech perspective, this meant we needed to achieve page load times of under 2 seconds.
We load tested the Drupal front-end, accommodating millions of users per hour, as well as the CMS, which had 500+ concurrent editors around the world. This was a huge feat as it was the first time load testing a CMS Server in this way. We employed Drupal Core hacks to improve the site’s performance and stability, including managing variables and caching. Lastly, we had DeltaTre display the live results. The full, end-to-end security testing was completed in partnership with NBC, and we supported the NBC sports team during the entirety of the Olympics from its headquarters—working in shifts to enable 24/7 dev support.
The site hit maximum traffic during the US–Russia hockey match, at which point it saw one billion responses per second in unique impressions. That moment marked the largest ever concurrent video stream on one video delivery platform.
- Drupal 7 - Custom NBC Installation (PAN CMS)
- DeltaTre Data Integration for all Olympic Data (Splits, Medals, etc)
- Robust Ad Integration (GAM)
A Fully Responsive System
NBCOlympics.com was designed to perform across all available devices and platforms. Even the mobile experience was optimized to serve full access to video highlights, schedules, stories and critical information. Complemented by the Live Extra App, dedicated to the Live Event Streaming, NBCOlympics.com provided users a go-to place to be a part of the games, available on-the-go.
We built the Rio Olympics site to break records for content consumption and build on our proud history delivering an experience worthy of the greatest athletes in the world. The opportunity to merge live-video streaming of every event with broadcast television for the first time was a tremendous moment for digital, and one that will set the standard for sports content systems in the future.