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NBC adds virtual reality to Rio Olympics even as it deals with actual reality of Zika

“The actual risk ... of encountering a mosquito is very, very, very slim," says NBC Olympics head Gary Zenkel.

Vjeran Pavic for Recode

The upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have been marred by concerns about the city’s preparedness, political corruption and the mosquito-borne Zika virus, among other things. But the guy in charge of broadcasting those Olympics to the world, NBC’s Gary Zenkel*, says he’s not concerned.

"Welcome to the world," Zenkel said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, in conversation with Recode’s Ina Fried. "The world that I have had the good fortune to travel around, and work at what will now be my 11th Olympics, it’s hard to remember a location where there weren’t issues that concerned us, that concerned those who might travel or work in the local city."

He acknowledged that the Zika virus, which can be transmitted by both mosquitoes and sex, has been linked with severe birth defects. Zenkel said employees at NBC Sports were given the choice to stay home and support the Olympics-broadcasting efforts from Stamford, Conn., where NBC plans to have a team of 1,100.

For anyone who is going to Rio, he said the risk of infection is low.

"If you’re pregnant, the recommendation is that you don’t go. If you’re not, you take precautions and if you’re very, very, very unlucky, you could contract Zika and it’s a few bad days," Zenkel said, noting that the Games are being held during Rio’s winter months of July and August. "The actual risk, especially if you’re a traveler in an air-conditioned building, hotel, workspace or out on a field of play, of contracting the virus, of encountering a mosquito is very, very, very slim."

On the new podcast, he also discussed how NBC is spreading its digital efforts, building on what it learned from livestreaming all of the London Summer Olympic Games in 2012. Zenkel said there will be two to three hours of virtual reality footage every day, produced in conjunction with Samsung.

Beyond its traditional media and digital efforts, NBC is for the first time allowing partners like BuzzFeed an opportunity to use NBC's access to broadcast to their younger, social-media-oriented audiences.

"What we won’t do is impose on a partner like BuzzFeed or Snapchat our production sensibility," Zenkel said. "[We will] rather use their expertise and their ability to connect with the audience that they speak to so effectively, to make content that will, one, make people aware, but two, inspire a curiosity in the stories, the athletes, the rivalries."

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If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara. Tune in next Monday for another episode of Recode Decode!

* NBC is owned by Comcast, which is an investor in Recode’s parent company Vox Media.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that NBC was allowing pregnant employees to opt not to go to Rio; the company is allowing any employee with concerns to skip travel to Brazil and work from another NBC facility.

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