Housing Complex

WaPo’s News Quiz, Wizards’ Video Displays, and Other Local Tech Projects Needing Assistance

The Verizon Center hopes to make its digital displays speedier.

The Verizon Center hopes to make its digital displays speedier.

The Washington Post is about to launch a news quiz, but needs help creating a program that will write the questions and answers without human assistance. The Wizards, Mystics, and Capitals are trying to find a way to render their videos so they can put them up on the display screens outside the Verizon Center instantaneously. NPR will soon release a program tailored to radio listeners' preferences but needs assistance collecting and sharing user data. And the Pigskins want to make their interactive features "cooler."

This afternoon, some of D.C.'s highest-profile companies convened at Arena Stage for SwitchPitch, where they sought help from a crowd of startups in meeting their tech needs. For the companies, it was an opportunity to find partners to help them achieve their goals. For the startups, it was a slew of business opportunities. And for the rest of us, it was a rare window into the tech aspirations and shortcomings of companies that usually keep their cards close to the chest.

Here's what they're looking to do.

NPR:

The public radio giant is looking to "personalize" radio news, NPR's Kate Myers explained. This spring, the company will be releasing a beta version of what's been called the "Pandora of news," which will tailor a listener's experience to his or her preferences using listening data and social media. (The program is already in beta internally; Myers showed me a preliminary version on her phone.) The company is looking for a partner company to parse user data and use it to improve the listener's experience, as well as protect that data and share it with member stations. The program will play both NPR and member-station content, as well as sponsorship messages. NPR is seeking "analytics partnership bids in the $100,000 range."

Washington Pigskins:

The city's professional football team is looking to make its digital fan experience, in a word, "cooler." Shah Shripal, the team's chief strategy officer, was vague on the details, because it appears there aren't many yet. The goal, he says, is to "engage the fans beyond just scores and stats." The solution could involve integrating the team's history, creating a platform for "smack talk," using the digital scoreboards in the stadium, or pretty much anything else. The aims of the project are to increase fan engagement, boost the number of fans and followers, and drive traffic to the team's website. Shripal said the budget could be "anywhere from the tens of thousands to six figures," with a project kickoff in April and a release in July or August, before the preseason.

The team's digital engagement strategy, it seems, is about as murky as its player acquisition strategy.

But one thing's clear: A team name change is not part of the project. Shripal was stone-faced when an entrepreneur in the crowd asked jokingly if a new name might be in the works as part of the venture.

Monumental Sports and Entertainment:

The company that owns and operates the Wizards, Mystics, Capitals, and Verizon Center has a much more defined goal: faster rendering. As things stand, it takes several hours for the company to render videos to the right resolution to display on the large screens outside the Verizon Center. The company wants a solution that'll allow it to display post-game highlights as soon as a game concludes. "Solve this problem," said Monumental's Randy Boe, "and you'll be eating Chick-fil-A sandwiches for a lifetime."

Washington Post:

The Post has two projects in mind. First, it hopes to launch a news quiz in the next eight to 12 weeks, which will pull items from the paper's news stories. The challenge is making it automated. The Post's Angela Wong said the company is seeking assistance in creating an API that can create questions and answers from the news without human assistance. Producers will then edit the questions and answers before publishing the quizzes.

The second project is based around "predictive virality," Wong said. Programs exist to track which stories are going viral, but the goal is to predict what's going to be viral, to "ride the wave to the top, and not catch up behind its peak." That would help the Post tailor its web and mobile layouts to the likelihood of virality. Over two to four months, the Post hopes to launch the program. A budget hasn't been set for either project yet.

Flickr photo via afagen, Creative Commons license