These Publishers Took Home Gold at Rio 2016

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games was a huge opportunity for publishers to engage audiences around the world. Just as athletes trained to “wow” their fans, many outlets prepared to capture the excitement with gold-medal content.

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games was undoubtedly a huge opportunity for publishers to engage audiences around the world. Just as athletes trained to “wow” their fans, many outlets also prepared to capture the excitement with gold-medal content.

After all, media consumption of the Games is on the rise, having reached an all-time peak with the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from London, which scored 621 million unique visitors to related web content and nearly 39 million unique visitors on mobile.

While it’s too early for media data on Rio 2016, it’s safe to assume that it will exceed London’s record. Likewise, publishers also outdid themselves for Rio. From artificial intelligence technology to branded content series, here is some of the gold-medal winning content they produced for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Publisher: People

What: Photo gallery of the “Human Emoji”

While Simone Biles was the leading star of the American women’s gymnastics team, her teammate, 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez, garnered her own media attention for her enthusiasm and lively spirit. Hernandez may have won silver on the balance beam, but it was her “beaming” facial expressions that got even more attention. From her smiles to frowns to that wink at the judges, Hernandez was hailed as the “human emoji,” a title that trended across social media and various news sites. People jumped on it, creating a playful photo gallery entitled, “7 Times Gymnast Laurie Hernandez Lived Up to Her Title of ‘Human Emoji.’” Blending emoji culture, a meme and stunning photos, People took home a win with this slideshow.

Publisher: The Washington Post

What: Automated storytelling technology

The art of “storytelling” is constantly evolving in the digital marketing world. The Washington Post took it to a new level for its live coverage of the 2016 Games by developing data-driven, machine learning technology. Its in-house technology, “Heliograf,” automatically generated short, multi-sentence updates that provided readers with a daily schedule of events, results for medal events, top medal tallies and alerts 15 minutes before the start of a medal event. Heliograf published these updates on the Post’s live blog, on Twitter at @WPOlympicsbot and via the newspaper’s bot for Facebook Messenger. The outlet launched the technology for the Games but plans to develop it further to enhance storytelling at all major news events, including the upcoming U.S. election.

Publisher: Sports Illustrated

What: Interactive content on Olympic fashion

When it comes to the Olympics, audiences never officially get to judge athletes’ performances; so Sports Illustrated gave them something else to vote on. As Olympic athletes in Rio were swiping up a storm on Tinder, Sports Illustrated used a swiping-style format within a fashion-focused piece of content: “Vote on the worst Olympic Opening Ceremony outfits of all-time.” This interactive item struck gold with readers by scoring nearly 5,000 views and an above-industry-average dwell time of more than one minute. By curating a voting roster of Olympic outfits–from Italy’s business suits to Mexico’s Mariachi costumes to Japan’s pajama raincoats—the outlet made a smart play by giving its audience the judge’s seat.

Publisher: The New York Times

What: Series of branded content on Rio athletes

The New York Times is killing it with its branded content offering in general. Not only are pieces interactive and eye-catching, they also showcase how a piece of sponsored content can provide an enriching environment to readers. For Rio, the outlet published a few such pieces on notable competitors, including this one on Biles, which couples influencer commentary with video and Biles’ own personal statements. We can surely expect to see more from the Times as it continues to build out its sponsored arm, with support from its T Brand Studio.

Publisher: New York Daily News

What: Photo gallery of #RioProblems

Remember the #Sochiproblems scandal that began trending in response to Sochi’s questionable hotel facilities during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games? Twitter and publishers were aflutter with coverage of Sochi’s mishaps with content like “The 20 Biggest #SochiProblems” from Bleacher Report. Well, Rio has had its own host of problems and, prior to the start of the Games, the hashtag #RioProblems already began to emerge. Joining in on the conversation, the Daily News curated a gallery dubbed, “#RioProblems: Epic fails of the 2016 Rio Olympics,” which captured the much darker side of the Games, from the kidnapping of an athlete to response to the Zika virus. The tone of the gallery was more serious than those from Sochi and presents a microcosm of the socio-economic and political struggles Brazil experienced to host the Games.

Judging by the aforementioned examples, this year’s Games inspired the most innovative, visual and interactive content than years before. As the Olympic Games have now come to a close, publishers should keep an eye out for the metrics on Olympic content media consumption and analyze which mediums performed the best on mobile and desktop.

Remember, these trends haven’t ended with the Closing Ceremony. Rather, they will continue to inspire future and ongoing coverage of major news events to come.

Shachar Orren is vice president of content at Playbuzz. She can be reached at