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December 18, 2014
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How to: creating viral videos for NBC

Maria Lamb of the US skates during a training session at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
By David Bauder
AP Television Writer (*)

A producer works on generating the most online traffic possible

At 3.30am on the day before the Olympics started, Brian Gilmore was glancing at the giant television screen that dominates a workroom at NBC Sports Group’s headquarters when something caught his eye.

A luge competitor from India, Shiva Keshavan, had fallen off his sled during a training run and, somewhat miraculously, had hoisted himself back on while speeding down the course.

Gilmore shouted across the room for someone to capture the video and asked colleagues whether they had ever seen anything like it.

No one had. Gilmore posted the video on NBC’s Olympics website and within a few days, more than 1.5 million people watched it.

Gilmore, a senior director at NBC Sports, is assigned to create viral videos for the Olympics. His job is to find moments — wacky, heartbreaking or heartwarming — to break out and post in the hope of generating the most online traffic possible.

“Our job is to find things that can resonate,” said Gilmore, who works with some four dozen people responsible for monitoring streams of every competition in Sochi and breaking out clips for highlight packages.

Each person sits behind multiple computer screens. Clocks on either side of a four-metre TV screen on the wall tell the time in Sochi and Stamford.

Somewhat improbably, Keshavan’s clip was the NBC Olympics site’s most popular clip for several days until Olga Graf blew by him. The Russian speedskater was captured by cameras after a race zipping down her Lycra uniform front to cool off, only to quickly zip it back up when she realized she had nothing on underneath. The clip was G-rated but still, more than 2.5 million people had to see for themselves.

Other popular clips include an interview with tearful American skier Hannah Kearney, overcome at the realization her career was ending with a bronze instead of gold medal; skier Todd Lodwick “photo-bombing” NBC’s Randy Moss as Moss reported on him; luger Kate Hansen psyching herself for competition with a dance routine; and a cross-country skier who pressed on despite a broken ski.

The Russian police choir’s rendition of Get Lucky before the opening ceremony earned 1.6 million clicks.

Gilmore’s job requires a different mindset than television producers; the Get Lucky performance didn’t make it on NBC television until it became a sensation online. It’s harder to describe a moment than it is to recognize one.

“You know it when you see it,” he said. “You’re looking for emotion. You’re looking for things you’ve never seen before.”

Crashes, wipeouts, spills — whatever you call them — are popular. But you have to be careful. “You don’t like to celebrate injury,” Gilmore said.

A key for Gilmore is being surrounded by an experienced team, with as many people as possible who have worked the Olympics before and understand the pace.

The clips become viral strictly within NBC’s universe.

The company keeps them for NBC’s own websites and doesn’t spread them around the Web. Success in highlighting a video that many people want to see means success financially. NBC is seeking as much traffic for its digital platform as possible, and each time these videos are opened, an advertisement plays.

Clips deemed good enough are given front-page attention on the NBC Olympics websites.

“Not everything can make the prime-time show, but we can put what we want up there,” he said.

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