The Economist and The Guardian Launch Their Own Virtual Reality Apps
Virtual reality is an experience desired by many but can only afforded by a few. Some print media companies are trying to change all that. The Guardian and The Economist are launching their own virtual reality apps, giving users a chance to view 360-videos and a watered-down virtual reality experience.
The Economy and The Guardian Introduce Virtual Reality Apps
The first product of this virtual reality offering was a destroyed museum located in Mosul, Iraq. Computer graphics were used to reconstruct the destroyed museum for a virtual reality experience. It was then packaged as an app that can be viewed with Google Cardboard. It can also be viewed without Google Cardboard. The app would ask if you have a virtual reality headset or not, then it would proceed to show you content that suits your choice.
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“In launching it for public release, we knew the experience needed simplifying,” said deputy editor Tom Standage. “It needed a straightforward narrative path, rather than a full interactive experience.”
The Guardians‘ preexisting app could not be made to work with the VR product, so a brand-new app had to be developed. The app can simulate a solitary experience and can be viewed with or without the Google Cardboard. The app has been making waves and was highly rated, but number of downloads isn’t yet known as the app publisher refused to disclose the information. If another VR experience is developed, the app would need to be redesigned to accommodate it.
Virtual reality is still a growing technology, and there are conflicts as to the terminologies to be used. Some say that if you don’t view a VR content using a dedicated headset like the HTC Vive with extra functionality, then it can’t be called VR. And truly, if not viewed with a headset, it is technically a 360 degree-video.
Co-founder and CEO of agency Visualize, the company that helped in the development of The Economist app, Henry Stuart, revealed to Digiday that there will be more publishers launching their virtual reality apps in months to come.
“It’s so that people can view their content in a trusted and controlled environment,” he said. “It’s already a difficult process looking for good content on existing platforms like Facebook 360 and YouTube 360. There’s a lot of crap, and there’s going to be even more because of user-generated content.” Camera brands like Nikon are bringing out consumer 360-degree cameras, adding more content to a crowded space.
Shooting a standard VR experience will cost one around £15,000–£100,000 ($22,000–$147,000) according to Stuart, with an app costing an extra £40,000 ($60,000) or so. “It isn’t that far out of advertising budgets,” he said.
Publishers are searching for business models to support virtual reality. A top VR app by a publisher is The New York Times‘ virtual reality app, which has been downloaded about 500,000 times and plays its own editorial and has brands sponsoring it. An example of this is an auto VR experience sponsored by a car manufacturer.
The Economist is yet to find a way to monetize its VR app yet. It would be combining its future VR experience with an Economist Films content in the summer. Before the year runs out, another VR experience based on data visualization would be combined with an event, which would be made available through the app.
Having audiences come to an owned platform is a bonus for any publisher, but a dose of realism is needed. Publishers can’t expect users to download multiple virtual reality apps for several news sources. The potential of VR to take people to places they can’t access in real life is huge, said Stuart. However, he added, that “if people lose confidence in VR, this could lead to a graveyard of forgotten apps.”