While the world has been watching the greatest athletes from each country compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics, one group of journalists and creatives has been focused on finding stories outside of the city's stadiums.
RYOT, The Huffington Post's virtual reality studio, partnered with Samsung to equip a team of visual storytellers with Samsung's new Gear 360 camera and challenged them to go beyond the games and into the city. RYOT and Samsung wanted filmmakers, visual artists, journalists and even musicians to use the cameras to create a slate of content that showcased Brazilian culture and offered glimpses of life in the host city. The Gear 360 camera goes on sale today online, as does Samsung's latest model of the Gear VR headset.
According to RYOT Chief Marketing Officer Molly Swenson, the news outlet had already been working with Samsung to equip The Huffington Post's dozen international bureaus with 360-degree video capabilities by the fall.
"The whole goal of building this creator's lab down there was to create a slate of content around Brazilian culture, more so than specifically Olympics coverage, but using new technology to do it," she said. "It's basically like trying to make the next creative class of storytellers."
Along with several members of RYOT's full-time staff, the dozen 360 cameras were in the hands of an impressive roster of multi-platform creators. One was a cultural anthropologist who researches technology, media and the politics of sound. Another was a Sierra Leonean-American music producer and writer who's lived in Rio since 2012. There was also a creative producer who's worked behind the scenes with artists including Lady Gaga and Diplo. Another shooter's recent work included traveling on foot while following Mongolian falconers.
By the end of the Olympics, RYOT will have created as many as a few dozen 360-degree videos in Rio, most of which will become available during the games via the Creator's Lab website. Other pieces will be released later this year.
Video subjects varied from culture to the environment to personal stories. In one, RYOT featured Guanabara Bay, a polluted part of the ocean known for its toxicity and trash. A severed leg appeared in the bay earlier this week. Another film, titled "The People's Champ," told the story of a Congolese refugee judoka and described the solidarity of the Congolese refugee community.
Because of the rigid content capture and brand sponsorship specifications of the Olympics, RYOT had to get "really creative" with how they planned coverage. For example, they couldn't interview athletes but could focus on fans.
It was a natural fit in more ways than one: Samsung could promote, and RYOT could do more of the journalism it's known for as an independent startup acquired by HuffPo earlier this year. RYOT, which originally planned on sending two staff members to the Olympics, was able through the Samsung partnership to expand its team to around a dozen Americans and Brazilians. (They even rented a house where Olympians and social media celebrities like Logan Paul came to visit and try their hand at creating 360 content.)
According to a Samsung spokesperson, the partnership is a "first-of-its-kind" in helping creators make their way in the realms of 360-degree video and VR.
"At the center of the RYOT partnership is the first-of-its kind collaboration to design a creator's lab, with the goal of accelerating the creation of 360 content," a spokesperson said. "To help creators perfect the art of VR storytelling, Samsung has built an entire VR ecosystem of products and services, to develop unforgettable, immersive stories."
Swenson said the time is right to focus on 360 and VR content. She said RYOT's vision is to become synonymous with immersive content and immersive storytelling. But she said for the company to get there, RYOT needs to create volume of content while also helping technology companies that are at the forefront of the charge—both in capturing and distributing content—to continue improving their products.
"Every media company that has risen to prominence in the last decade-and-a-half has done so on the back of some emerging technology," she said. "If you look at The Huffington Post, they were one of the first to figure out SEO and the contributor model. And that was digital-first …There was BuzzFeed, which figured out social and algorithm-based content production. Vice figured out digital video."