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Jordi Neves on digital storytelling at the Volvo Ocean Race

Jordi Neves on digital storytelling at the Volvo Ocean Race

As the Volvo Ocean Race’s chief digital officer Jordi Neves is the man ultimately responsible for communicating the story of the 2017-18 edition to the race’s legions of passionate sailing fans. With the start of the next race less than a year away Neves shares his thoughts exclusively with Sail Racing Magazine on what he and his team are working on.

Image: Ian Roman

Image: Ian Roman

One of the biggest changes we are trying to drive this time is to somehow heighten the awareness among the crew that the fans are watching them and hopefully encourage the sailors to get involved in creating raw content themselves.

The OBRs will still be involved in capturing and writing stories but if we can also have the skipper and some of the crew tweeting live and maybe even one of the younger crew members posting on Snapchat, that would be awesome.

Adding in that element changes the OBR’s responsibility a bit because up to now it has been the OBR not only capturing those stories but also packaging those stories. 

We will be equipping the OBRs with new tools like drones and some other options that give them a bit more scope to tell the story. We are going to be rotating the OBRs to try to avoid the situation last time where most were extremely exhausted by the end of the race. 

We are also looking carefully at the way we train the OBRs and how we set their objectives leg by leg to help them keep focused on telling a fresh story. We are also exploring the idea of bringing in specialist OBRs from maybe somewhere like National Geographic or a mainstream news agency and persuading them to come along with us at some point.

VOR 2015-16 On Board Reporters

In terms of video we want to avoid the content being over-cooked by the time it gets posted. Particularly when it comes to video people are looking for something different and unique - something authentic. I believe the best content we can send out there on a daily basis is raw content because the only way to be authentic is to be as close to raw as possible.

360 degree cameras are becoming more and more common and overall this is where sport in general is moving to and ultimately at some point on to virtual reality experiences for the fans. We are still a good way away from that – at least a couple of years - but we are taking the first steps along that road. The key to mass market success in this area really lies in the production of good quality devices for the mainstream public to consume 360 content on. 

We have a partnership with Samsung to try out their 360 degree cameras and we will be shooting 360 content for sure, but we don’t want it to be just a novelty like we see on Facebook quite often right now - it has to help tell the story. We may keep that kind of footage for specific targeted campaigns where we can have the most impact.

The new racecourse for the next edition is going to mean a challenging race for the teams but also for the systems we use to get content off the boats. Thanks goodness we have Inmarsat and Cobham with us yet again. Their systems – both the on-board hardware and the satellite network – are very robust and resilient but the environment we will be asking them to operate is very harsh as always if not more so. 

Francisco Vignale / MAPFRE / Volvo Ocean Race

This time we are going to be going deep down south for much longer than last time. That means we will be operating in latitudes where coverage is very difficult and very likely our fleet will be the only network customer in the area. 

In the Southern Ocean so far down around the bottom of the globe, physics works against you and you have massive waves throwing the boats around, so I think connectivity is going to be more challenging than ever.

Biometrics was something we experimented a little bit with in the last race. It’s a topic that always gets lots of people excited. My personal view is that heart rate is not a particularly interesting metric for us offshore – inshore yes, but offshore no. 

We have been looking at a lot of things - like identifying sleeping patterns, or simply being able to tag people as on deck or below deck at any given time. The issues are that you have to have a device that is reliable and can be attached to the person and be worn for 20 or more days at a time. 

Once again the environment is an issue – the sailors soon get a layer of salt on their skin that can send biometric sensors crazy. In the long term, not for this race but certainly for the next one - I think the solution will be a silicon chip implant under the sailors’ skin. 

For this race the area we are exploring identifying who is on deck sailing the boat and perhaps to try to make some links between groups of individuals and the performance of the boat.

Next race the OBRs will be kitted out with drones as standard issue. 
Image by Yann Riou/Dongfeng Race Team

It is an exciting time right now to be working out how to best harness the available technology to best tell the story of the race. We don’t want to use technology for technology’s sake however. Everything has to be introduced to help tell the story quicker or better or more easily.

All the things we are working on are subject to change and are discussed with the teams every step of the way. We need to have the buy-in of the teams for it all to work. No doubt we will all have different agendas at times but by starting the dialogue well in advance we stand the best chance of reaching a common goal. 

[Main image: Ainhoa Sanchez]

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