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USA Today to Experiment With Virtual Reality News Show

By Quinten Plummer
Mar 14, 2016 12:46 PM PT
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The USA Today Network last week announced VRtually There, a virtual reality news program that will evolve alongside the nascent VR sector.

Set to launch this spring, VRtually There will take a network approach and will air an assortment of regularly scheduled programming, according to the Gannett-owned company.

It will lean on the network's newsrooms, dotted across the U.S., to deliver original reporting for the VR platform, according to spokesperson Amber Allman.

"We will promote the show through our multiplatform USA Today Network, which is comprised of our national brand, USA Today, and 92 local news brands -- all of our websites, mobile applications and newspapers -- on a regular basis," she told TechNewsWorld.

360-Degree View

It will deliver music news from a newsroom in Nashville, Tennessee; sports from Indianapolis and Detroit; outdoor living from Reno, Nevada, and Fort Collins, Colorado; tech coverage from Los Angeles and San Francisco; finance reports from Westchester, New York; consumer tips from Reviewed.com; and politics and government briefs from the nation's capital.

The program will support 360-degree video on desktop displays, smartphones, tablets, mobile VR viewers and headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC's Vive.

"We will also feature a comprehensive tutorial for first-time users explaining VR -- for our show and our other VR content -- as well as how to use it," Allman said. "Additionally, we intend to promote in other news platforms and at industry and consumer events."

Adaptive Strategies

It's not yet clear if VRtually There will allow users to make playlists of its content or if it will moderate the flow of content with autoplay.

"This is part of the adventure of storytelling in a new medium," said Allman.

The traits that have been isolated as successful in online video experiences need to be challenged and reassessed for implantation in VR, she said.

"We will test and learn on an ongoing basis to determine if features like autoplay, the concept of a playlist, or even simpler ideas like a lower-thirds graphic make sense on a 360-degree canvas," Allman said.

Survival or VR's Second Mass Extinction

At risk with the launch of VRtually There is more than money for the USA Today Network. A poorly received user experience could impact negatively the adoption of VR, according to Larry Chiagouris, professor of marketing at Pace University's Lubin School of Business.

Google's Cardboard VR platform, the cheapest and most basic form of VR available, also could have a negative impact on the USA Today Network's efforts and the industry at large.

"The most important contributing factor to the success of VR is creating as realistic an experience as possible," Chiagouris told TechNewsWorld. "In the early stages, if an inexpensive means negatively impacts the user experience, that will do more harm than good to the adoption of VR."

For the USA Today Network's part, it seems to be confident that what it is building is compelling enough to see VR thrive instead of going the way of 3D TVs and VR's archetype, which was push to the brink of extinction a couple of decades ago.

"We are creating an immersive news experience that is made for a medium that leverages the core pillars of empathy and simulating physical presence," said Allman. "This is not a short-form Web series or a local TV news show, but something completely new."


Quinten Plummer is a longtime technology reporter and an avid PC gamer who explored local news for a few years, covering law enforcement and government beats, before returning to writing about things run by ones and zeros and the people who make them. If it pushes pixels or improves lives, he wants to learn all he can about it.


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