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  • Writer's pictureUpanishad Sharma

Journalism and VR till now

Virtual Reality received a lot of exposure in the latter parts of 2015 till 2018. Nonny De La Pena, a journalist, along with her intern Palmer Lucky, started experimenting into this field when she created a virtual reality experience titled ‘Hunger in Los Angeles.’ A flimsy set of goggles and a smartphone made up her VR set. However, when she premiered her newest innovation at the Sundance festival, it opened to exceptional praise.

Source: Immersive Journalism

This also resulted in the inception of The Emblematic Group, a company which has to date produced dozens of virtual reality experiences designed to usher the viewer over to a separate world using nothing more than a pair of goggles and headphones. As simple as it may seem, however, this process remains complicated because of multiple factors.

In 2014 when Facebook acquired Oculus, various research and news publications, including The Knights Foundation released detailed reports highlighting how immersive realities could go a long way in the field of journalism. Many news organisations poured an immense amount of funding in this new innovative way, which included the likes of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The ABC News and many more.

Now in the current scenario, there comes the question of how far the relationship between journalism and virtual reality has come. The Reuters Digital News Report in 2019 puts focus on the disappointing sales of VR headsets and falling investment in the technology.

However, official figures show the projected market size catapulting to over 160 billion dollars by 2023. The increase in 3D immersive content, including the gaming industry, is to thank along with many other factors.

Meeting the challenge halfway.

Nevertheless, content creation in immersive reality is still experimented with as VR in smartphones remains the feasible focus in virtual reality. Numerous news organisations have outputted various productions on just mobile platforms. Examples include the BBC live streaming the world cup matches in virtual reality, and multiple creative sides are taken by the NYT. Feedback on mobile isn’t bad, either. BBC’s mobile application was downloaded over 300,000 times in November of 2018. (Reuters 2019).

Industry consensus as of now remains that mobile VR is more capable of attracting consumer attention than full virtual reality. As we discussed before, the difficulties in producing completely immersive VR are still prevalent as they were back in 2016.

Google cardboard has been a boon in the affordable VR market. Priced at a modest 30 dollars, the makeshift device made entirely out of cardboard manages to give a decent virtual experience to an everyday user. As discussed earlier, most projects have been undertaken by news publications with Google cardboard in mind.

Source: NatGeo YouTube

Producing 360 content like Nat Geo’s virtual adventures in Okavango is still going on and proves to be relevant in attracting audiences interested in a niche market, but most publications have drawn the line between true VR and smartphones quite clearly.

The delicate balance of expense and return

To disseminate the news through virtual reality on a mass scale, it is imperative that the technology becomes affordable not to just journalists but consumers. The sales projection of virtual reality headsets hinges upon their ability to slowly become cheap as the time goes on.

However, the field of journalism is in a tight spot due to several factors which hinder growth. Primary problems encountered by journalists include the lack of an economic model for immersive journalism. Even though equipment used in making news in virtual reality has gotten affordable, there are problems in gaining a return on investment. The widely used internet model won’t work in an immersive space. Having advertisements pop up while you’re touring Africa in VR breaks immersion. Hence, more experimentation is needed.

The Hype Cycle

The Hype Cycle
Image by: Wikimedia Commons

If we compare the immersive market to the Gartner Hype Cycle, it is seen that the market right now is in the Slope of Enlightenment. After the introduction of VR in 2015 and then the hype died down in ’17, several companies have continued to invest in the technology by releasing new products which are fundamentally improved iterations of the same hardware and software once introduced years ago.

Earlier this year, Facebook in its F8 conference announced the release of two new Oculus headsets. Titled Oculus Quest and Rift S, the headsets boast wireless fidelity and increased immersion thanks to their new tracking algorithms and components.

Facebook has shown that the trend for developing virtual reality is slowly changing as is evident by the decreasing price of the new Oculus Quest and Rift S. Headsets require quality hardware to manufacture and hence face affordability as one of their biggest challenges.

However, speaking to Dr Dave Ranyard, CEO of Dream Reality Interactive, he argues that the price point isn’t that high since a VR headset like Oculus in 2019 costs around 400 dollars, which is a bit more than a PlayStation 4 and statistics here agree.

Shortly before the F8 conference, a survey was conducted by the Statista Research Department. A total of 1,013 respondents were presented with a rumoured price of the upcoming Oculus Rift to be between $250 and $350. Over 61% agreed with the price and deemed it appropriate, while 18% remained in limbo.

Furthermore, the increasing application of this technology in fields like gaming is opening new avenues, and companies are finding ways to make it cheaper.

For now, it seems the average price of headsets remains equivalent to a console which is quite fitting considering the most usage out of headsets is for gaming. Displays like the Oculus or The HTC Vive are expected to get cheaper, but until then it seems that most journalism content is based around 360 videos on Google Cardboard.

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