“Um Jeito” for Watching the Rio Olympics

Notifications, Filtering, and the User Experience Design of Sports Apps

The Rio 2016 Summer Olympics features more than 11,000 athletes from 205 countries competing in 306 events and 28 sports over 17 days in Brazil. Phew! That’s a lot to keep track of. Several mobile apps offer ways to help organize the “festa” and watch it on your TV or mobile device.

I’m an avid footballer, my wife teaches Brazilian history, my son runs cross-country and my daughter plays soccer. So we follow the U.S. women’s and Brazilian men’s and women’s soccer teams. My son met American middle-distance runner Clayton Murphy this summer, so we’ll also be following him in the men’s 800m. We often time shift our TV watching, so I’d like to be able to record some events on my DVR and not spoil the results if I don’t watch them live.

In this article, I’ll discuss how three official Olympic mobile apps — NBC Olympics, NBC Sports, and Rio 2016 — and Google search results satisfy my family’s specific sports watching use case:

Tell me when the USWNT, Brazilian national soccer teams, and Clayton Murphy are competing so I can watch the events live or at a later date without spoiling the results.

NBC Olympics

NBC’s mobile app offers ample news and video highlights, but navigating the schedule can be frustrating. For instance, if I browse by sport for soccer, I see news and highlights but no schedule. To view the schedule I have to leave the app for the NBC Olympics website — where TV listing are all the way at the bottom of the page — or download and open the NBC Sports app.

You need to switch between apps to locate useful schedule information. Eventually you can view the schedule but it’s unclear what the alert feature will do. Schedule and TV listings are all the way at the bottom of the NBC Olympics webpage, after news and video content.

NBC Sports

The NBC Sports app gets me one step closer. It lets me enable notifications and sign up for alerts for soccer and track and field. But configuring them has some issues. I can’t limit these categories by sport and country or athlete, it’s all or nothing. That’s not granular enough for my use case. I’m interested in the 800m, not all track and field events.

After entering my local cable provider, I can finally browse scheduled broadcasts for my area. I can filter the extensive channel listing by sport, but still have to browse day-by-day to find events I am interested in watching. That’s a lot of work for following soccer, an event where I follow multiple teams an extended time period or the 800m which occurs infrequently.

I can browse by sport. This menu includes icons to help with quick scanning by sport but doesn’t include player profiles for all 11,000 competitors. My son’s favorite Clayton Murphy didn’t make the cut. Granted, following Murphy is an edge case, but if you make it to Rio then you deserve to be listed. And what about top athletes from other countries? With some effort I can find profiles for host country stars like Neymar and Marta, but cannot follow them. Why design communications for an international event with a nationalist mindset?

Finally, even though I set my favorites during onboarding, I must enter them again to filter the live and upcoming events. Alerts are available here, but it’s unclear what enabling them will do. A clearer description is needed.

NBC Olympics doesn’t factor favorites into its notifications settings. NBC Sports notifications are set by sport and featured athletes, but still are not granular enough for my use case. There are a lot of track and field events but I’m only interested in the 800m. NBC Sports offers a filterable schedule but it’s unclear what “alert me” will do.

Rio 2016

The official Olympic app is focuses on the schedule of events and directory of participants, rather than video broadcasts and replays. It organizes the large number of events with a logical information architecture and material design user interface. Since my use case focuses on reminders rather than coverage, this app is extremely useful.

Onboarding lets me select my favorite country, sports, athletes and teams. Right off the bat, I can personalize the content to my needs. I can add Clayton Murphy, Carli Lloyd and Marta as favorite athletes. While I can only select one favorite country I can follow U.S. and Brazilian teams. The app also uses icons in the list of sports, helpful since it uses a different English language version for naming some sports. I know that “football” is “soccer”, a common global reference appropriate for an international event, but it did take some extra effort to identify “athletics” as “track and field”.

Calendar and notifications are handled separately to alert me of upcoming, live and past events. I can set reminders on my calendar and choose not to see event results.

The best feature is the way that the app separates schedule reminders and game results. This satisfies another important part of my use case — to not spoil the results of events that I may not watch live. I can view a custom list of my favorite events, add app alerts, or add events to my calendar. I can easily update my favorite from the same view and also add reminders from the overall Olympic schedule. Because game results are handled separately as app notifications, I can disable them and still enjoy watching events at a later date.

Icons help with regional language differences. Murphy gets the spotlight he earned in Rio 2016. And who knew there were two American Carli Lloyds in Rio? Profile images with portraits and country flags help me easily and accurately find who I’m looking for. I can select multi-factor favorites, like U.S. women’s football.

Google Search Results

Google offers enhanced search results for the games, ideal for quick access to specific schedule information and results. For example, I can easily find when Murphy will be running the 800m or view when both the Brazilian men’s and women’s soccer teams will be playing next on one screen. The results include quick access to popular player profiles and news, but no way to add alerts from the search results view. Access to native OS features like notifications are limited for mobile websites, but an “add to calendar” feature would have been useful here. Also, Google search only fits my use case before events. Also, since schedule and results are displayed together, there is a high risk of spoiling the results. I’ll need to review the schedule multiple times as competition moves from preliminary to medal events.

Google search results immediately show the schedules for specific athletes and teams, but do not offer integrations with calendars or mobile notifications.

So what do these apps teach us about user experience design for digital media consumption habits?

  1. Be conscious of regional preferences and language when designing for global audiences with diverse interests. Consider using icons, imagery or regionally specific content.
  2. Search is effective for known, specific information; browsing when categories are clearly understood. Balancing discover of new content with access to specific data continues to be a hard design problem.
  3. Filtering of alerts and notifications are critical to a multi-channel viewing experience and should offer a high level of user control when audience interests may be both diverse and specific.
  4. Users have different needs before, during and after a live event. Designers must address the experience for each moment in time.
  5. Mobile continues to have the advantage in data integration across the device (i.e., app, calendar, notifications). Mobile is an essential tool for organizing a multi-device media consumption experience (get an alert on phone and watch now on TV; put an event on my calendar and schedule a recording on my DVR).

The official Rio 2016 app does a surprisingly good job of satisfying my family’s needs for watching the games. Have a better system for watching the games? Let me know in the comments. And more on how to watch sports on delay without spoiling the results in an upcoming post.

[1] The app asks to enable locations settings, so maybe users see different results in country.

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