Documentaries a Good Proxy For Wider Adoption of Virtual Reality

Virtual reality promises to take journalism to a whole new level, but mainstream consumer adoption isn’t there yet for publishers to jump all-in on VR. Some are taking it more seriously than others. The BBC is proactively experimenting with VR journalism despite the monetization challenges.

This Tuesday, the British network will screen its new two-part “Damming the Nile” VR documentary shot over the course of 2-3 weeks with a crew of four. The head of VR at the BBC Zillah Watson wrote that filming in VR requires creative and technical teams to work together more closely than with traditional film.

The ultimate validity test is superior quality and content that is engaging, unique, and ultimately better compared to what consumers can get on flat-format viewing. Production quality also needs to match the hardware. The majority of the devices hitting the market (about 75% according to a PwC report) are the portable viewers that operate with a smartphone such as the Google cardboard or the Samsung Gear VR. The Saturn heavy rockets of VR e.g. HTC and Oculus is where real production value comes in.

Pricing out a VR project comes with various caveats.  High-quality brand VR experiences will will run you in the $1 million ballpark, but there’s a wide spectrum of uses cases from hard-core CG for Oculus to more straight forward 360 degree live streaming.

For publishers, funding and monetizing VR content remains a challenge, since audiences are still small. Co-published branded content is one way to fund it. Coordinated efforts by media will likely play a key role in accelerating adoption of the technology. This will continue to drive production (and post-production) costs down.