Day in the Life: What the Today Show’s head of innovation does

Despite working for NBC’s Today Show, Andrew Pinzler doesn’t hang out all day with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford — that’s just part of his job.

Pinzler is the head of Today’s innovation labs, where he creates and oversees the digital and social media projects. He admitted to Digiday that his job is “difficult to explain in an elevator pitch” — he doesn’t wear a white lab coat, in case you were wondering — but any casual viewer of Today will recognize his work because he’s helping create the digital projects.

The position was created specially for him last October after spending a year working in a strategy and innovation position in the NBC News group. Now, he works just for Today, where he comes up with ideas like the fourth hour’s interactive WineBOT (more on that later), social media integration with the show’s Orange Room, and the “Blue Button” that shows a live count of how many likes the “Today’s Take” Facebook page is getting.

Last Wednesday, he helped launched the Facebook Live Booth, a custom built, iPhone-equipped nook where the show’s 5 million Facebook followers can ask the show’s guests and hosts questions.

“We were looking for interesting ways to do interactive things with the green room in general, so we reached out to Facebook and they loved the idea,” he said, adding that the budding technology is “certainly something we want to experiment with and see what works and what doesn’t.”

With that, and the Instagram Mini Booth, which features a scaled down replica of the Today desk where the show’s guests and hosts upload pictures to Today’s Instagram account, Pinzler is looking to the future to see what other technologies he can toy with, like virtual reality.

“If we can find a quick and easy way to test something and iterate on it that connects with the audience, then let’s do it,” he said.

Here’s what he does, slightly edited for clarity:

5:00 a.m.: Get into an UberX from my apartment in Brooklyn to 30 Rock. (Not something I would normally do but when I need to get into the office at 5:30am I’m not trusting the Q train to get me there.) While riding to work I respond to some Slack messages and emails that I didn’t get to the day before.

5:30 a.m.: I arrive at Rockefeller Plaza and go straight to Studio 1A to meet with one of our technicians who is installing a GoPro into the newly installed Facebook Live Booth. Oddly enough this isn’t for Facebook Live, but it’s actually for the broadcast team to also get a live feed inside the booth.

I work with them on the best placement for the camera that will create a good shot for broadcast but not interfere with the Facebook Live capture. The show’s director that morning in the control room sent me some pictures of what the GoPro looks like on the monitors. Everything looks good so I head across the street to 30 Rock and the Today Digital newsroom where my desk is.

6:00 a.m.: I review some sample TOPs (photos with text overlays) from Angeliki Jackson on our media team that we will use in the upcoming grilled cheese quiz microsite and pick the designs that will be the most readable on mobile so they can apply that design to all of the grilled cheese photos on the site. I also work on some PowerPoint slides for my boss, Today Digital’s Executive Producer, Ashley Parrish, on a framework about how more of our team can be involved in experimental initiatives.

Today's Facebook Live booth.
Today’s Facebook Live booth.

7:00 a.m.: I exchange some text and emails with Facebook and FoxTales (the builder of our interactive green room installations) over some of the final technical logistics for the Facebook Live Booth.

7:45 a.m.: I get an iced coffee that I don’t really end up drinking more than two sips of before I have to head back down to the studio.

8:00 a.m.: I meet Brooke Sassman, one of our social media editors, who has been tasked with guiding our guests and talent while they are actually using the Facebook Live Booth in our downstairs Green Room. We go over the technical set-up one last time before the launch. I go to the upstairs green room where the Instagram #MiniRoom is and I make sure that the folks up there are all set with an iPad that we setup with Slack to send pictures of our guests in the #MiniRoom to our social media team.

8:30 a.m.: The green rooms are getting pretty crowded and I don’t want to be in the way so I instead watch the broadcast from the studio’s newsroom and I open up Facebook on my laptop to watch the live feed from the Facebook booth.

On the show Carson Daly explains the two new interactive installations and we watch John Cena very gently sit in one of the #MiniRoom chairs and then cut back to Carson as he starts his live stream. Carson ends his live stream a little sooner than we had scheduled so I ran up to the #MiniRoom to grab John Cena to start his Facebook booth session early. (To be clear, I didn’t literally grab him. You don’t grab John Cena. I was sleep deprived at this point, but not insane.)

9:00 a.m.: I head back across the street to pick up the WineBOT technology for “Winesday Wednesday,” which sits in a Rubbermaid box under my desk. I carry it back over to the studio where I quickly chat with one of the 10 a.m. hour producers about what the WineBOT question will be today, specifically because Al Roker is in for Kathie Lee Gifford. I then head up to the kitchen set up the WineBOT.

9:43 a.m.: I get an email from one of the Orange Room producers with the subject line “Button malfunction!” so I head down there quickly to see what the issue is with the Orange Room’s Blue Button.  Earlier in the week John Cena had temporarily broken the button so I was worried he had done it again but it turns out it was an unrelated issue. I showed the producer what he needed to do and headed back up to complete the WineBOT setup.

10 a.m.: WineBOT time. We have one of the most successful WineBOT executions we’ve ever had. Hoda and Al were debating over the question “Which song makes you happier?” The audience was asked to tweet #TeamHoda for “Cruise” or #TeamAl for “Philadelphia Freedom.” The results can be seen here:

11 a.m.: I attend the daily TODAY Digital editorial standup meeting.  (During which, I finally drink that iced coffee which is now room temperature water/coffee but I really need some caffeine at this point.)

11:30 a.m.: Things slow down a little bit and I can catch up on some work and emails that I missed during the morning activity. The media team has sent back the updated TOPs so I update the grilled cheese quiz to include those and make some other coding updates to it to clean up the style and add some more analytics.  I start work on an interactive video using a platform we are testing out for a few months called Wirewax.  I also look into building my own Amazon Echo by porting the Alexa platform into a Raspberry Pi computer that I already have from a previous project.

I meet quickly with Adam Miller, the coordinating producer for the 9 a.m. hour, Today’s Take, and he tells me they have decided not to go with my April Fool’s idea for the upcoming April 1st show but then I meet with Joanne LaMarca, senior producer for the 10 a.m. hour, who is still trying to get Kathie Lee to send a video that we need to execute on the April Fool’s day prank for that hour of the show.

Andrew Pinzler desk
Pinzler’s desk at 30 Rock. (Photo: Samantha Okazaki)

3 p.m.: Meeting with my counterpart at SyFy, Matt Romano, Director of SyFy Labs. We had never actually met before so talk about some of the overlap in our roles, similar issues we face, the common vendors we might want to work with, some of the tech that we are tinkering around with and we chat about different ways we might be able to help each other out.

4 p.m.: Joanne has gotten the video from Kathie Lee and I run over to Jake Heller on the NBC News original video team to ask for his help stripping out the audio into separate small MP3 files. I then quickly hack together a “sound board” Web app and connect a tiny Bluetooth speaker into my phone. I go back to the 10 a.m. producers to demo how the sound board prank would work.

5 p.m.: Quick email exchange with the digital team about some new virtual reality technology and how we might explore experimenting with it.

5:30 p.m.: I head back to the studio to test out the Bluetooth speaker range in the studio for the prank, I update some code for an interactive template for the computer the Orange Room and I work with FoxTales to test and update the sound/mic settings in the Facebook Live booth in the Green Room.

8:30 p.m.: I leave the office to grab some dinner and try to get some sleep. Brooke has asked if I could continue to help her out during day two of the Facebook Live Booth, which I am more than happy to do, but it requires me to be back at work at 7:30 a.m.

Banner photo via Samantha Okazaki/Today.

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