Virtual Reality has quickly shifted from science fiction to being poised to become the next great medium for entertainment. And this time, unlike during the television boom and dotcom bubble, journalists don’t plan on being left behind.
VR has expanded enough that 360 video, while by no means meets entertainment industry quality standards, is no longer the gold-trimmed fanciful addition it used to be. With stereoscopic cameras now commercially available for under $700, journalists are also beginning to utilize 360 video in a number of ways – from National Geographic recording deep in the Amazon, to broadcasters like Sky News in the UK streaming Formula One test footage and the Tour de France via their 360 video app.
At a time when the mainstream news media’s credibility is under attack, 360 cameras offer a unique solution to the problem. Because journalists value accuracy and transparency most when reporting a story, the challenge has long been trying to recount and present the facts of the story, filtered from the mess, but still unbiased in the presentation. Now 360 video allows for a reporter to help share a story with just their camera, leaving “nowhere to hide,” so to speak.
It introduces a new way to report news, one that simply presents the facts of the situation, in the situation itself and every single angle of the situation - leaving no room for bias to hide.
This doesn’t mean consumers will be seeing the evening news replaced with a 360 video, but they should be prepared for 360 streaming to become more and more commonplace in realms like sports where the WWE has already announced they will be streaming highlights in 360 for free – only adding to the list of companies out there embracing the technology.
“At the heart of everything we do in the studio are the questions - ‘what can this do for our journalism?’, and ‘how can we make this the most compelling experience for our audience?’” - Francesca Panetta, Executive Editor, VR, The Guardian
The technology still, however, has its limitations in both its hardware capabilities and its application. As a budding industry, not only is the consumer audience lacking, but ownership of HMDs are not yet ubiquitous amongst the average consumer – posing a real problem for news outlets trying to convey news through the medium. Beyond these issues, news outlets are also infamously underfunded with ad revenue, another obstacle that will have to be overcome for journalism to fully embrace 360 video.
In an ideal near future, however, the only limitation would be to decide what content new outlets could broadcast in 360-degrees. For example, while the State of the Union address is an important and widely viewed event, a 360 camera would not be appropriate because nothing else in the room would be of any importance to a viewer other than the President and the speech being given. But a political rally may hold more interest as the view would be immersed in the environment, feeling as if they were there.
Instead of a focused view, 360 video offers a more of a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ experience vs a fully immersive experience that many VR users are used to, wrote Zillah Watson of BBC research and development.
Still, market projections have VR quickly coating the coming horizon (by 2020 via Greenlight Insights) and major news outlets have been eager to embrace the new technology.
“We look forward to being able to bring [the viewer] closer to our journalism through … virtual reality,” said Panetta.
Now, it simply becomes a matter of time and funding.
Article by Andrew Wei, an associate analyst with Greenlight Insights.