Based on the buzz, the world is getting truly excited about the promise of virtual reality. In ways that television and film have only been able to scratch the surface of, VR promises to take us to places that we’ve never been and relate to events in completely new ways. VR is not simply a further evolution of video, it is a completely new medium. Content creators in all areas are in the midst of developing a new language for VR.
Journalists have begun to jump into this burgeoning medium with promising, if mixed, results. News organizations have taken individuals on immersive rides in Blue Angels and on 360 degree tours of Iowa farms. Yet, there are intense challenges to producing quality content that moves at the speed of news.
VR is not simply a further evolution of video, it is a completely new medium.
On Thursday, April 28, the Producers Guild New Media Council in conjunction with the Newseum produced an event entitled Virtual Reality, Storytelling, and the News.
The seminar featured true innovators in the world of VR news production including Cameron Blake, senior VR producer, Washington Post; Robert Padavick, Lead USA Today Network Producer for Virtual Reality;Ray Santos, Gannett Digital; Paul Cheung, director of interactive, AP; and Mitch Gelman, vice president of product, The Knight Foundation. The panel was moderated Chris Pfaff of the PGA New Media Council.
Gelman reviewed many of the key findings from The Knight Foundation’s report Viewing the Future: Virtual Reality in Journalism. The power of storytelling in VR is different than television or film. There is an ability to elicit greater sympathy and connection to an audience than in traditional journalistic media. That power has been demonstrated in VR programs such as Waves of Grace – Ebola Survivor Stories and Welcome to Allepo.
Significant challenges exist that journalists and news organizations need to contend with. Significant ethical questions exist about how you work with subjects when everything around the journalist and the subject is in frame. Additionally, since VR is a brand new medium, production techniques are being refined. Many of the tools of production continue being developed. New products like the Nokia Ozo were only just released at the NAB show last month. Furthermore, while there is demonstrated interest in VR, the potential for consumer adoption remains uncertain and we won’t even have benchmarks for consumer adoption until then end of 2016.
The financial investment in VR is quite impressive. 2015 saw $4 billion dollars of investment in the medium with 229 new investors. This represented a 27% increase over the 2014 figures.
The report goes on to note that while the production costs for VR are high, Virtual Reality also provides new business opportunities that have not been available in the past. VR content producers have direct-to-consumer opportunities that they may have not had in the past and the sponsorship models currently in play are helping to fund these ventures.
While these journalists are at the forefront of their craft, they admitted that they remain students of the medium.
The panel’s VR producer journalists are responsible for placing viewers on the surface of Mars, in the cockpit of a Blue Angels jet, on the red carpet for the premiere of Star Wars, and on the field with the Cincinnati Reds during Spring Training. While these journalists are at the forefront of their craft, they admitted that they remain students of the medium. All of them are experimenting with equipment and experimenting with storytelling. None of them claim to be an expert and all of the panelists look forward to a time when cameras and post production workflow was less of an issue than it is. VR is seen as “the most collaborative media.” There is a strong need for technologists, advertisers, and content producers to come together to define standards and a language for this new medium.
Journalists have been taking people around the world since pen was put to page. While the challenges are great, VR provides a stunning new opportunity for broadcasters to share the world in ways that will impact their audiences in rich, emotional ways.