Author(s): Peter Bryer
Virtual reality (VR) is working its way through niche markets, but looks set to head to mainstream use as news publishers experiment with the technology to address the expectations of younger generations. Flat newspapers and Web sites could be replaced by 360-degree reporting as hardware, software and talent come together to change the industry.
Getty Images is the world's largest stock photography agency, with a digital library of 80 million photos and illustrations, and tens of thousands of hours of stock film footage. Last week, the company announced that it will offer virtual reality imagery for the Oculus Rift.
News organisations, publishers and corporate communications departments around the world use such photos for storytelling, so the recognition of VR pictures as in-demand and saleable products tells its own story. Virtual reality is being established as a legitimate media channel.
Gannett Company, America's largest newspaper chain (and the owner of 46 television stations across the US), is also experimenting with virtual reality. The company says it's preparing to create broadcasts for the "Minecraft generation", describing expectations of interactive experiences.
Virtual reality is enabling publishers to make news events just as engaging as entertainment. First-person shooter games are making way for first-person reporting, with the likes of Ryot's Nepal Quake Project placing viewers at the scene. Significant world developments, feature stories and sporting events are being captured in 360 degrees. Future generations of historians will be able to look back in time as never before.
It's notable that Facebook's Oculus Rift platform has taken such a prevalent position in many high-profile VR roll-outs and experiments. Content developed specifically for the company's hardware could cement Oculus' technology leadership. First-mover advantages aren't a guarantee of long-term success, but Facebook's vision could pay off if the social network becomes the main channel for content consumption of all kinds.
The news industry has a long history of innovation — from the printing press to photos and video, successful publishers have known the importance of keeping pace with change. Younger journalists and photographers are now learning the new tricks of their trade. Trend signals like those from Gannett Company and Getty Images indicate that more changes are happening in the news business. Virtual reality isn't a gimmick, but a legitimate tool of the trade that will alter the way current events are reported and how content is consumed.