As technology finally catches up with sci-fi yearnings, virtual reality is poised to be a mainstay for major content publishers.
More brands are turning to virtual reality to bring eyeballs to their content. Even publishers like The New York Times are embracing virtual reality to create branded VR videos.
But will consumers take the time to view these virtual reality videos? It can be a difficult sell for those viewing through a cardboard box created by Google that looks suspiciously like a cheap View-Master. If you didn’t receive one of the first million Google Cardboard boxes distributed by The New York Times, you’ll have to pony up $15 for your own set. Then you’ll need to download the free NYT VR app.
All videos are less than nine minutes and some are as short as three minutes. Scattered among videos about serious topics, such as displaced children and food drops, are lighter topics such as a walking tour of New York City and a two-minute (potentially nausea-inducing) drive in a sports car that is actually a VR commercial for TAG Heuer Swiss watches.
These files are so large they’re impossible to stream, even if you have a WiFi connection, and must be downloaded to view smoothly. With the availability of live and streaming video, VR will have to compete for viewership. The NYC subway isn’t full of commuters viewing VR content through their Google Cardboard box; it’s packed with people staring at 2D mobile devices.
Perhaps that is why The New York Times has produced less than 20 virtual reality videos since it introduced this concept in November 2015.
It’s hard not to compare VR to Belo Corporation’s failed CueCat. In late 2000, Belo invested about $37.5 million into the privately held Digital Convergence Corporation, creators of the CueCat technology, and mailed 200,000 free CueCats to subscribers of The Morning News, the Providence Journal and the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. Readers were encouraged to get additional information by using the device to scan special CueCat bar codes that were printed along side newspaper articles.
A recent report from the Knight Foundation and USA Today Network contends that 2016 will be a pivot year for virtual reality content and journalism as more outlets experiment with VR. Gannett Co. announced in March it plans to develop a VR news program, “VRtually There” and that it’s discussing content opportunities with a dozen brands.
Only time will tell. It took Belo less than a year to scratch it’s CueCat idea.