It's Time to Get Real with VR in 2016

Everybody is picking this to be the breakthrough year for Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) technology.  At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas there are more than 40 AR or VR booths showing off the best and brightest new ideas, devices and experiences.  Video games and Movies may be the obvious first content creators for VR but some in the News & Marketing Business are already getting real as well!

2015 was the year some journalists dabbled in VR and 2016 could be the year more jump in neck deep!

  • September ’15 – Frontline released their Heart of Ebola Outbreak Documentary
  • October ’15 – CNN broadcasts the Democratic Presidential Debates in VR to mixed reviews
  • November ’15 – NYT mails VR Google Cardboard headsets for their Free VR App allowing their subscribers to watch their magazine’s films
  • November ’15 – AP announces partnership with LA Times for five VR journalism projects
  • 2014 – Des Moines Register builds VR video on Farm Families for Oculus Rift

The Leading Technology
To no one’s surprise Facebook and Google are the technology heavyweights duking it out for the VR & AR audience!  Oculus is the American VR company acquired by Facebook and is still developing their first stand-alone product called the Rift.  Oculus recently announced it is taking orders for the Rift which is expected to come with two games installed. More detail on Facebook and Oculus Rift can be found in our Story Ideas: January 2016 post, or read about here.  Samsung used Oculus technology to deliver one of the hottest 2015 Holiday Gifts, the Gear VR.

Considered to be the first mainstream VR device, the Gear VR incorporates the user's smartphone.  This presents an opportunity for local news providers.  
Google Cardboard also incorporates the Smartphone, but is taking a more simplified approach with their “fold your own” viewer.  Through Play Store, Google allows for users to Cardboard apps that also work with Google Cardboard certified viewers.

SmithGeiger research shows local news consumers love to use their smartphones to access news multiple times each day (younger demos use smartphones with greater frequency).  It’s unlikely smartphone owners looking for a quick glance at the weather will want to whip out their VR technology at work (bosses might frown on that sort of thing) but it’s not hard to imagine News Consumers searching for VR news experiences in the “lean back time” from 7 – 11 PM.

Challenges for VR
In this Q & A article Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey admits today’s VR experience is limited to two groups, those with Gear VR and people with a PC with high-end graphics cards.  But Luckey predicts within five years even low-end PCs will be able to deliver good VR experiences.

In addition to technology adoption, content distribution is going to be the biggest of the issues for VR companies.

  • Will there be an app store for VR?  
  • Will Facebook’s Occulus continue to be the dominant VR company and therefore dictate specifications for content creators?
  • Or will Google Cardboard use the power of YouTube and search to win?
  • Can 360 degree videos survive once the curiosity factor subsides?

These and many more questions may or may not get answered in 2016 but those who want to appeal to the early adopters of VR can’t afford to wait for all the answers to come.  It’s time to get in the game or risk becoming irrelevant with the Gamer Generation (and others) who want to experience VR news.

360 Videos – Not VR but Really Cool all the Same
Google through YouTube and Facebook are also promoting 360 videos which could have a good use for Local TV News.  360 Videos are not VR.  They are videos that allow the user to interact with the video, basically turning the camera to see what they want.  360-degree videos can be viewed using VR headsets which maximizes the “you-are-there” effect.

Google enabled the uploading and viewing of 360-degree videos in March of 2015.  Many hours worth of material are available on YouTube.  YouTube has a #360 Videos channel with many great examples.

In September Facebook added 360-degree videos on Android and the web. With the help of Oculus, iOS support was added in November.  Facebook has a page called 360 Videos where they highlight some of the best videos on Facebook including some from journalists.

Both YouTube and Facebook 360 videos are “smartphone friendly” as the user tilts their smartphone or tablet to modify the view.

Here are some of the cool 360 videos we found:

Facebook and YouTube both have posted tutorials on how to shoot/post 360 videos.  So why not give it a try?  You can promote your journalism to an entirely different audience that may or may not be turning into a traditional TV newscast.  You can increase your Facebook engagement which will help you utilize that platform as a “recruit to view” tool.  You can show the videos on your newscasts proving to the youngest part of the demo that you aren’t just producing their grandfather’s Local TV News!