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February 07, 2022

I may not be at the Olympics, but that doesn't mean I can't watch a lot of Olympics, and write some about them too.

Today's newsletter is 1,146 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: The Beijing Olympics in VR

Illustration of a VR headset with the Olympics logo on the front.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Most viewers will still get their Olympics fix from traditional broadcasting, but NBC is betting that a cadre of early adopters equipped with Meta's Quest 2 headset will flock to consume 150 hours of live and on-demand content from the Games in VR.

The big picture: With today's headsets becoming more capable and the tech industry pushing new metaverse schemes, VR is gaining new momentum as a platform for mass-media content.

How it works: VR broadcasts provide viewers with a 180-degree view, allowing for more peripheral vision and an immersive feel — but not a full interactive experience in which you can move around.

  • The broadcast will switch camera angles at times, such as shifting from mid-ice view to behind the goal in ice hockey.

Details: Those who want to watch have to authenticate that they have a pay TV subscription.

  • NBC is delivering the opening and closing ceremonies live along with broadcasts from a half dozen sports, with features and highlights from 10 additional events.

My hands-on report: Watching part of a U.S. women's hockey game, I did feel more like I was in the arena, which for this year meant truly getting a feel for how empty it was. (I had lots of flashbacks to what it felt like on the ground for the Tokyo Games.)

Flashback: A number of companies experimented with VR sports in the mid- 2010s, but the efforts proved to be ahead of their time.

  • NextVR, one of the early pioneers, struggled to make a business out of broadcasting sports and concerts and was sold off to Apple in 2020. Apple promptly shut down its consumer-facing app.

Between the lines: While the number of choices for VR sports has dwindled, the quality of headsets makes it a much better experience than in the past.

  • Early VR broadcasts offered significantly lower video quality than standard TV. This year's VR broadcast relies on an 8K video feed, meaning the picture can rival a high-end TV. (It's tough to make an apples-to-apples comparison because VR has to cover a wider field of view and provide content to each eye.)

Yes, but: Other drawbacks of VR still apply. Wearing a headset is isolating. Batteries run out. And watching for long stretches is uncomfortable.

My thought bubble: The Olympics VR experience is best for packaged highlights where editors focus on the most compelling moments and angles. However, for those who want to feel a little more like they are in the stadium, the technology has started to deliver on more of that promise.

What's next: I'll keep watching what NBC has to offer and report back later in the Games. Be sure to subscribe to Login for that and more on the technology of the Olympics.

2. CEO says Spotify isn't "silencing" Joe Rogan

Joe Rogan at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in December in Las Vegas. Photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Joe Rogan at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in December in Las Vegas. Photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek told employees Sunday that while he strongly condemns racial slurs used by Joe Rogan in the past, he won't cut ties with the platform's most popular podcaster, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Spotify has come under fire in recent weeks for anti-vaccination comments made by Rogan — which prompted boycotts from several musicians.

What they're saying: "While I strongly condemn what Joe has said and I agree with his decision to remove past episodes from our platform, I realize some will want more," Ek wrote in an internal memo obtained by Axios.

  • "And I want to make one point very clear — I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer."

Details: Ek doubled down on Spotify's content moderation position, saying the company "should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope."

  • Ek also confirmed that Spotify had conversations with Rogan and his team about some of the content in his show, "including his history of using some racially insensitive language."

The big picture: Spotify has tried to position itself as a platform that distributes content, but exclusive deals to promote some content has created pressure on the audio giant to take more responsibility.

What's next: In response to the situation, Ek said Spotify will commit $100 million to licensing, development and marketing music and audio content from historically marginalized groups.

Go deeper: Read the full memo.

3. "AgeTech" companies court digital seniors

Illustration of a hand cursor holding a cane.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

As the pandemic has coaxed older people to get more nimble with technology— even trolling TikTok to check out their grandkids' posts — tech companies are increasingly catering to their needs, Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson writes.

Why it matters: For seniors, learning to shop online, enjoy social media and use VR headsets can beat back isolation and loneliness — particularly during COVID-19. And to marketers, wealthy retirees look like an attractive sales niche, so they're tailoring products and services accordingly.

Driving the news: A new report from Euromonitor lists "empowered elders" as a top-10 global consumer trend for 2022.

  • Among people 60 and older, 60% visit social media sites at least once a week, and 21% play video games, Euromonitor found.
  • 82% own a smartphone.
  • "Alongside browsing and shopping online, Digital Seniors embrace virtual solutions for socializing, health screenings, finances and learning," according to the report.

A survey by Ericsson's ConsumerLab found that seven in 10 seniors ages 65–74 were interested in trying out AR/VR headsets, primarily to pursue a skill or hobby, like cooking.

The other side: Companies that sell old-fashioned medic alert buttons — of the "I've fallen and I can't get up" variety — have used the pandemic as an opportunity to vastly expand their services.

  • Companies like LifeStation are offering concierge-style menus to seniors who’ve been cut off from normal activities.
  • These "extras" can include arranging a ride to the doctor or contacting a client's niece to arrange a catch-up phone chat —  all activated by pressing the alert button and talking to someone in the call center.

"We're designed to call emergency services, but we'll call anybody you want us to," said Matt Solomon, general manager of LifeStation.

The bottom line: Technology aimed at seniors was getting more sophisticated before COVID, but the pandemic has given it a big push forward.

4. Take note

On Tap

  • This week's earnings reports include Take Two Interactive on Monday, Lyft on Tuesday, Uber on Wednesday and Twitter on Thursday.
  • Samsung has an "Unpacked" event on Wednesday where it is expected to introduce the latest members of its Galaxy S smartphone line.

Trading Places

  • Kabir Shahani has stepped down as CEO of Seattle-area unicorn Amperity, as GeekWire reported. He will be replaced by COO Barry Padgett, who was previously chief revenue officer at Stripe.

ICYMI

  • Wireless carriers are seeking far more money than anticipated from the U.S. government to cover the cost of replacing networking gear from ZTE and Huawei. (The Verge)

5. After you Login

While we are talking Olympics, check out U.S. figure skater Nathan Chen developing his skills — as a 3-year-old.