Virtual Reality in Local News: Part 1

How Virtual Reality (VR) Can Help Your Local News Coverage Stand Out

“From manufacturing to media to retail, (virtual reality) VR is cutting across a lot of industries. News organizations shouldn’t be too far behind.” –Lucas Miré, Product Manager, CNN Mobile Apps

For more than 35 years, CNN has been a vanguard in reporting news in new and innovative ways. In this deep-dive on virtual reality in journalism, CNN continues to embrace new ways to tell stories, to immerse viewers in the story, provide powerful context and generate a visceral reaction.

For example, the CNN Toro Bravo story produced by CNNVR transported viewers to Spain and the world of bullfighting. In it, the story took the viewer from the heart of a boisterous street of Pamplona to the heartstopping rush of running with the bulls, even to the hometown and living room of bullfighter Javier Jiminez, where viewers can pan to see every detail of his living room—pictures on the walls, family photos on the sideboard, couch cushions askew—details that transform a story into an experience.

At CNN, most VR stories begin with the editorial team. Through experimentation, CNN learned that six types of stories lend themselves to VR.

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Why VR in Local News

“There’s no turning away from [VR] content once you enter the experience…and that means we don’t just tell you about a story, we can let you experience it.” –Ed Thomas, Senior Product Manager, CNN Mobile Apps

A good story will always be a good story—but VR offers an opportunity to tell it in a fresh, powerful way that leaves a lasting impression and gets people talking. What’s more, VR storytelling comes at a time when news stations want to offer viewers a unique experience that goes beyond snippets of information on social media.

VR offers benefits beyond the nuts and bolts of storytelling, too. Because it’s a digitally native product, it can plug into a station’s digital strategy and help drive engagement. Within local markets, stations can use VR to help stand apart from the competition and establish themselves as innovators. The cool factor can help newsrooms create custom opportunities with local businesses and generate new sponsorships—a topic discussed in more detail below.

Importantly, viewers don’t need a headset in order to view VR stories. While headsets provide the most immersive experience, people can also view 360° video on their desktop, or more commonly through the “magic window” of their mobile phones.

How to Bring VR Into the Local Newsroom

You don’t need a fully loaded team of professional videographers and photographers. In fact, we’ve found that traditional professionals have to unlearn some best practices in order to capture great VR footage. A local newsroom can equip a multi-platform reporter with some basic equipment, how-tos and license to experiment, without the burden of what they’re “supposed” to do.

Click here for Part 2 of this series to learn more about VR gear and production on any budget.

“Show Me the Money”

VR coverage lends itself to long-form narrative, so it’s a natural candidate for sponsorship. For example, our Volvo-sponsored coverage of the August 2017 total solar eclipse meant that viewers got to chase the sun across the country. At the local news level, this might mean your own version of Friday Night Lights presented by the local car dealership, or reporting from a summer concert series sponsored by the city credit union.

Opportunity to Be a VR Breakthrough

At CNN, we’re excited about the possibilities of VR in storytelling. From earthquakes in Italy to a day in the life in North Korea, it’s an opportunity to engage viewers differently and show them places that otherwise aren’t accessible to them.

But that doesn’t mean we’ve figured it all out—and that’s part of the fun. Ed explains the big opportunity:

“Once upon a time, someone did a hurricane fronting stand-up—a wave behind you, a tree in the wind, things blowing left and right—because someone did that once and everyone went, ‘wow, that’s awesome.’ No one’s figured out VR yet so there’s the ability to get in from a news angle, experiment and play around with it. How often does that come around?” –Ed Thomas

Part 2 of this series will take a look at the nuts and bolts of VR news production—the gear, the shots, the budget.

This piece is produced by CNN Newsource as part of our ongoing conversations on news industry developments and opportunities with our partners in local news.