New York Times enters the world of virtual reality with Google partnership

20 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Cheap VR for the masses: Google Cardboard headed to 1 million NY Times subscribers.

As the media world undergoes almost unprecedented disruption, The New York Times has been exploring new ways of creating and delivering its digital journalism, and now it says it wants to do so in three dimensions—but as far away from print as you can possibly get. On Tuesday morning, the company announced a partnership with Google GOOG -1.73% that will send a million of its readers free virtual reality headsets, on which they can watch VR films that the Times has made. The Google Cardboard kits, which turn a smartphone into a basic virtual reality headset, will allow NYT readers to watch the first film to come out of the project, The Displaced, which follows three children who have been forced out their homes in south Sudan, eastern Ukraine and Syria. The media giant has partnered with Google for the initiative, and will deliver more than one million of the units to readers’ homes over the weekend of November 7-8.

Some digital subscribers, as well as Time Insider readers, will also be given promo codes to receive a free Google Cardboard viewer, (which can cost around $25 for the basic models). If the rise of new media players such as Snapchat and Periscope have taught us anything, however, it is that all bets are off when it comes to the future of media, and that being a giant in one medium is no longer enough. Once assembled, users can slide an Android phone or iPhone behind the lenses, and look through a pair of eye holes to experience virtual reality apps. The team will release another film later this year based on its behind-the-scenes look at the Walking New York cover story it ran in April, with further releases scheduled for 2016. For the uninitiated, Google Cardboard is a simple fold-out contraption that you can slip your smartphone inside, enabling you to use it as a VR screen.

The debut NYT VR film, titled “The Displaced,” captures the resilience of three extraordinary children uprooted by war, all through the lens of virtual reality. It’s produced in partnership with Vrse, the biggest player in VR documentary filmmaking and one of the best-known VR film companies — among other things, it previously helped Vice launch its VR news coverage. Subscribers to the Times’s premium “Insider” digital package, and a selection of regular digital subscribers will be given promotional codes to claim a Google Cardboard set. The Times-Google pair-up is a relatively inexpensive way to get an innovative storytelling format in the hands of the paper’s Sunday subscribers, who tend to be wealthy (median household income $176,000, according to the company’s media kit) and relatively old (median age 55). Why this matters: Google’s virtual reality hardware is as low-tech as it gets, standing in stark contrast to the slick headsets and fancy new input methods coming from Oculus and Valve.

Cardboard headsets usually don’t cost more than $30, which puts them within reasonable reach of the VR-curious, but this active promotion will reach people who might otherwise never give it a shot. GE’s film was created by the Times’s in-house content marketing agency, T Brand Studio, in conjunction with a virtual reality company called Framestore.

A number of filmmakers and journalists such as Nonny de la Pena have been exploring what VR can do for journalism, with projects that look at news events like the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and allow viewers to walk through a re-enactment of the event.

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