Who will be first with Virtual Reality B-roll?

Posted on July 21, 2015 3:11 pm by | Virtual and Augmented Reality | PR

Google CardboardWhich company or agency will be the first to include Virtual Reality files as part of a PR pitch?

Journalists today are jonesing for videos and images. Editors increasingly instruct reporters not even to submit articles if they don’t have video or artwork. It’s the rare pitch that includes images and video; it’s also the rare media site that includes a video gallery (including B-roll) or an image gallery.

In a couple years, it’s likely we’ll add Virtual Reality (VR) to the list of assets that will increase the odds of a successful pitch. The idea of producing VR B-roll may induce guffaws and eye-rolls today, but marketers and journalists are already testing the VR waters. PR needs to start taking it seriously and experimenting with ways to use the fast-growing technology to satisfy the needs of the media and other stakeholders.

Some practitioners are mulling over VR for PR. Last week, The Holmes Report explored VR’s potential, but the focus of the piece by Aarti Shah was squarely on marketing. Back in May, Gary Grossman penned a post for Edelman pondering whether VR will transform the way people live, but not how the practice of public relations will have to evolve to accommodate the addition of VR to the mix of communication tools our audiences routinely use.

There has been plenty of coverage of VR for marketing, from the theoretical to actual examples of the companies taking the first steps with the technology. Ditto journalism. In fact, it’s the momentum VR is getting as marketers and media adopt VR that should make PR practitioners nervous that they haven’t even started.

While we in PR spend more time than we’d like trying to convince people that there’s more to PR than media relations, there’s no denying that earned media remains one of the key activities practiced by PR agencies. Think about what might help elevate a pitch to The New York Times, which is already experimenting with the idea of VR-enabled immersive news. “Walking New York” was a nine-minute VR experience about the production of cover art produced for one of the Sunday New York Times Magazine editions.

Samsung VR Gear for Galaxy S phonesAll you needed to view the immersive story was a VR headset, even something as inexpensive as Google Cardboard (shown at the top of the post), which works with your smartphone and sells for as little as $30. Samsung’s VR headsets (left) work with Samsung smartphones and retail for about $200. Google’s Play store is loaded with VR experiences you can download for free (like a rock climbing and base jumping experience courtesy of North Face, or a Paul McCartney performance of “Live and Let Die”) or a fee (a VR version of Aaaaa! that lets you experience what it feels like to dive off buildings). The highly anticipated Oculus Rift headset is due this year.

Some of the VR apps in the Google Play store

Given the immersive nature of VR, and the availability of 360-degree cameras to record every angle of a scene (even GoPro has jumped into the VR recording business), it’s not much of a stretch to imagine the Times and other media organizations offering to take readers directly into the places where news is happening. Picture yourself walking through a crime scene or touring a refugee camp. Suddenly you’re not looking at pictures or reading third-party accounts. You’re there, perhaps hearing a reporter explain what you’re seeing or reading captions that appear as an overlay in a corner of the screen.

I can also see VR B-roll, files in a gallery on the company’s media site. A walk-through of a manufacturing facility could become part of a news organization’s coverage when the facility becomes part of a crisis (e.g., an explosion or an instance of workplace violence). B-roll of a refinery could be useful for a news outlet covering a rise or dip in oil prices. The more media employs VR in its coverage, the more useful VR B-roll will become for media relations purposes.

Examples of marketers dipping their toes into VR are everywhere:

  • A VR file from outdoor outfitter North Face has been downloaded more than 15,000 times from from the Google Play store. The file lets Cardboard users experience a climb in Yosemite National Park, which customers can try out when they’re at the company’s New York or San Francisco stores.
  • Marriott is using Oculus Rift technology to let visitors to its hotels find themselves on a Hawaiian beach or in downtown London. (Marriott has applied the #GetTeleported hashtag to the campaign.)
  • STA Travel has also latched onto Oculus Rift for a UK tour that lets locals board a bus that has been outfitted as a lounge where they can experience 360-degree visits to US destinations (like Times Square, below) in hopes of luring Brits planning vacations to choose a trip to the US.

STA Travel's VR view of Times Square

Meanwhile, Mozilla has given developers access to a test version of the Firefox browser that includes VR technology that could, according to USA Today, “make surfing the web more like watching movies or playing video games.”

Some PR agencies may be mulling over VR, but it’s undoubtedly for their marketing assignments, not media relations, corporate PR, or other non-marketing uses. Speaking at a VR panel, the founder of a content shop acquired by H+K Strategies said, “I’m bullish on this (but) I think from a PR perspective, agencies aren’t aware of what’s going on here.”

PR has been slow to adopt other technologies that took off, ranging from the Internet to social media platforms. It appears PR has lost the opportunity to take ownership of native advertising. Here’s hoping the entrenched practices that seem to typify agency work doesn’t lead to the same laggardly approach to Virtual Reality.

And please let me know if you see any agency adding a VR file to a pitch or a newsroom gallery.

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