01 October 2015
@OOArevo Jean Yves Chainon
As major technology players such as Facebook and Microsoft prepare for the launch of their virtual reality headsets (the Oculus Rift and HoloLens respectively), and following the recent news of Facebook launching 360° video and Samsung Gear VR’s price tag dropping to $100, a flurry of virtual reality companies have been developing platforms and content in time for these major releases.
But for many people and journalists, the concept of VR remains just that: a concept that seemingly has no immediate application in terms of content or added journalistic value. So here’s an overview of the virtual reality landscape that will help explain how both consumers and news organisations may benefit from these new technologies for storytelling, and how they complement each other.
At the forefront, Jaunt VR recently secured a third round of funding bringing its total funding up to $100m. Jaunt VR specialises in high-definition, cinematic-quality content, and builds the software and platform required to achieve this purpose. While its high-end content may not yet be within reach of the average newsroom, its team is confident about the imminent mass adoption of VR.
“Once people try it, that’s when you see adoption,” said David Anderman, Jaunt’s Chief Business Officer. Another factor to consider is that with over 90 per cent of video views happening on mobile phones, most people already own the devices with which they’ll have their first VR experience. According to Jaunt’s representatives, the mobile phone has no demographic.
With regards to journalism, “All of a sudden there’s true objectivity,” said Miles Perkins, VP of Marketing Communications, citing the example of the recent 360 videos about Syria, which give the users agency to look all around the scene. “The second thing: it was incredibly humanising.”
With that added impact, there will be a learning curve for journalists and content creators to acquire the proper reflexes to produce VR content. “VR is a completely different media than say video or television,” added Perkins.
Another possibility for VR is exemplified by Virtually Live, a company that gives viewers the ability to immerse themselves in a reconstructed sports arena to watch a sports game (currently chiefly football games). “We’re trying to put people in the stadium itself rather than in the glass wall,” said Tom Impallomeni, CEO at Virtually Live.
Thanks to a combination of cameras on the field, Virtually Live can track the position of players and the ball and recreate a game in a pre-rendered stadium. Viewers then have the choice to move freely around the field. Users also have the possibility to watch the game socially, for example in a VIP booth, with friends from around the world.
Tom Impallomeni also mentions that sponsors and sports teams are interested by the possibility of selling unlimited tickets at virtually no added cost. He acknowledges that it remains challenging at the moment to produce highly photorealistic models of players’ subtle traits and details such as facial expressions, however this will change with time.
In the near term, he believes most revenue will be generated by the gaming and entertainment industries, but there are plenty of other applications for this technology, including training or recreating large-scale religious events.
Matterport is a company that offers a third avenue for content creators and journalists, by enabling them to create a highly photo-realistic 3D model using their proprietary camera and software. After taking a series of photographs at close intervals, Matterport’s software almost instantly creates a 3D model, in which users are able to move around. Due to this system, the Matterport camera seems more suited for closed, controlled environments, and its largest revenue stream currently comes from real estate companies creating virtual tours.
This also has a positive impact for consumers: “Being able to virtually visit 50 apartments in an hour versus an apartment every two hours makes a huge difference,” said founder Matt Bell. “Our customers collectively are building a 3D replica of the world.”
Matterport’s product may be suitable for journalistic content in some cases, as is the case with its interactive storytelling with integrated 3D tried by the Associated Press in its Suite Life article, which contains 3D Models, text, data and photos. Matterport is in the process of developing further tools to enrich its 3D models and content.
Bell mentioned that while 360 Video is good for high-end content or live events, it is also limited by its current lack interactivity and by the user’s inability to move: “I’m generally more in favour of interactive experiences.”
Finally, there are well-known players and video platforms such as YouTube VR which can help journalists and content creators to learn how to produce 360 video and VR content. “We try to really strike a balance between teaching and letting creators do video on their own,” said Liam Collins, who heads YouTube’s VR space in Los Angeles, one of six such spaces worldwide. “The idea is to provide a home to YouTube creators,” he explained. YouTube helps its creators through different means, by providing sets, organizing Master classes with YouTube channels, or simply by bringing YouTubers together in person.
While YouTube is keen to help them improve their filmmaking abilities, Collins said YouTube is also well aware of the importance of preserving the content producers’ originality, which helped to make the platform a success in the first place. “We’re very cognisant of the fact that YouTube was built by people who approach video in different ways,” Collins added.
And indeed, with the nearing advent of VR, other video platforms have emerged, such as Vrideo, which specialises in VR content. According to Chadwick Turner, Vrideo’s Head of Content Partnerships, the competition between video platforms is healthy in order to promote more widespread content production, at a time when most of the public has not yet been exposed to 360 videos and VR experiences. “We just want to educate the community on how to do this,” said Turner who recognises that it’s also important not to bog down current newsroom workflows. “One of the pillars I’m most excited about is advocacy journalism. The engineers can have the fun at first, but the storytellers are first and foremost.”
Further Reading on VR: