NYT VR: Virtual reality comes to mainstream news, and it’s so cool

by | Nov 18, 2015 | News, Social Media, Technology

It used to be that when you picked up a newspaper, the most you could possibly hope for is to be briefed on the most recent news possible (while, hopefully, being at least marginally entertained in the process).

Now, however, newspapers—and media companies in general—aren’t just in the business of simply selling news. From a financial perspective, they can’t be.

They’re instead selling and experimenting with informative multimedia experiences of all kinds, including cool projects by NYTLabs that help visualize historical language usage or provide ambient news displays you can hang on your wall at home.

The new virtual reality app from the New York Times, launched in early November and called NYT VR, is another great example.

Described as a way to “simulate richly immersive scenes from across the globe,” and currently the most downloaded Times app ever for its first four days, the free app can be used by anyone with an iPhone or Android phone.

So how can you start enjoying virtual reality news reports, right now?

  • Download and set-up the app. You can download NYT VR for either iPhone or Android. Once you’ve got the app, the company recommends you view NYT VR’s videos via the Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer—but it’s not a prerequisite (although the company delivered more than a million Cardboard devices to subscribers recently). Simply open on your smartphone and follow the instructions.
  • Browse your gallery. Once your app is set up, you’re ready to go! Browse your gallery for the story that interests you the most (there’s really no categorization within the app, so all content appears in one long, rolling list. It’s OK, though, as there are currently only five stories to choose from).
  • Choose your experience, but beware the native advertising. Two of the five stories originally available in NYT VR are native advertising-type pieces—including one six-minute video, “Backwater”, sponsored by Mini and highlighting the Mini Connected system. While this doesn’t make the videos any less interesting (the Mini video is about a diamond heist), it does somewhat call into question whether the app is meant more for news dissemination or entertainment and advertising.
  • Enjoy your video. As I don’t have Google Cardboard, I chose to run my video in smartphone mode, but it didn’t really matter—after the first 30 seconds, I was hooked on the format. The display responds to the position of your phone, meaning you have to hold it up in the air to see the video properly. You can also move your device around to “look around” the frame, meaning you can look up, down, side to side and even behind you (standard VR stuff, but very new for an online video or news report).

While I didn’t learn much by watching Mini’s video as far as news goes, the implications for news gathering and dissemination were obvious and are absolutely incredible.

Imagine following a reporter through Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, and being able to look around as they tour the camp? Or being able to experience being first on the ground during a natural disaster or other huge news event?

The implications are huge, and I suspect the New York Times will quickly take advantage.


Jim Donnelly
Jim Donnelly graduated with a BA in History/English from Wilfrid Laurier University and a MJ from Carleton University. Jim heads Agility PR Solutions’ Media Insights Group which oversees the production of public and client media analysis reports and infographics. Jim was previously editor of the Ottawa Business Journal and related publications such as Ottawa Technology Magazine and Meeting in the Capital.


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