360º Experiments with Media Companies

This session at the NYC event focused on what some leading media companies are doing to develop and distribute mostly VR content. For example, the NY Times started doing 360º VR news stories about a year ago and distributed 1 million Goggle cardboard headsets to their subscribers. Now, they are offering a Daily 360 VR service.

Reporters were not given much instruction on creating their 360º editorial, just the hardware and a mandate to “try stuff”. Over the last year, everything has changed completely and the Times now has field-ready gear in 500 reporters’ hands all around the globe.

Why is the Times doing this? Because it offers a new, innovative visual story telling medium that brings value to their readers. Apps for other VR headsets like the Google Daydream will be out soon.

Time Inc. publishes dozens of magazines including high profile titles including Life, Fortune, Time and People. The company now has 175 people working on their Life VR project where they are focused on quality storytelling, not quantity. Speaker, Chris Hercik, then described some of the titles that have been released including “Defying the Nazis”, “Everest”, “Lumen”, and projects for InStyle, Sports Illustrated and Travel+Leisure.

Time produces 600 events per year and VR will now be a part of all of them, claimed Hercik. The graphic below shows the broad scope of the VR strategy for Time.

David Liu from Viacom described some of the VR projects that Viacom is working on such as an MTV artist project, a White House festival project and their VR streaming of the first Presidential debate at Hofstra University. Liu asked if it is better for VR developers to focus on world building or storytelling, and answered his question by saying they believe world building is the better focus right now.

NBC Universal was next and they see a big opportunity in location-based VR entertainment (they own Universal Theme Parks). They now have the “Repository” Halloween experience that allows several “riders” to have a 30 minute experience for $50 where they can see the full avatar of their friends in the virtual world.

They have initiated more than 40 VR/360 projects so far including The Voice 360; Made in 360’ SNL 40th VR Experience; Jurassic World VR/360; The Expanse 360 Experience and Halycon. Halcyon is a live sci-fi crime drama that will play out as ten linear and five VR episodes. It is also live in Alterspace, which means many people can be in the virtual world live and see avatars of other players/participants. The company also captured 80 hours of Olympics action last summer in 360º video.

Over the next five years, NBCU sees VR becoming a significant new revenue stream. Device technology is improving rapidly and production costs are coming down. “We have never seen a technology with so many tech giants involved at such an early stage,” concluded Sowmya Gottipati of NBCU.

Finally, NextVR gave a summary of their activities producing high end 3D VR content mainly for sports. The company recently announced a new five year deal with Fox Sports to deliver VR content, and a deal with the NBA to capture a basketball game every Tuesday during the regular season. They have also done award shows, presidential debates, concerts and more.