Drones, wearables, VR: emerging technologies that will change media

Cindy Jeffers is CEO and CTO of Salon Media Group

A generation ago, the idea of receiving breaking news through an implanted microchip sounded like a sci-fi fantasy. Now it seems inevitable. Although implantables may still be a few years away, several other futuristic technologies have already arrived. The media industry is already seizing the opportunity to experiment — and ultimately launch a new era of tech-enabled journalistic experimentation.

As CEO and CTO of Salon — one of the very first online-only news sites — I’m always on the lookout for how new technologies can be incorporated into the media gathering and distribution process, and how they can be used to engage our users. Here are a few examples that are starting to have an impact on media. While it’s too early to tell just how big of an impact they will make, some media outlets have already begun to see how these experiments can change the content experience, both as creators and consumers.

At CES this January, we saw opportunity flying through the air with the advancement of drone technology.

Having had the chance to get my hands on the Iris+ from 3D Robotics, I was instantly energized by the potential this had for our team and for the industry at large. The “Follow Me” option (directing the drone to follow the user) and flight-planning capabilities (which allow users to set a shot pattern) give journalists the opportunity to plan shots ahead, something critical when you also need to be focused on what is happening, not just on flying your camera.

With its GoPro compatibility, it helps make entry into drone media much more accessible and attainable for the regular reporter and user, many of whom already incorporate GoPros into their storytelling. Other companies like Parrot with its Bebop Drone are also making drones much more user-friendly by integrating controls into a mobile application – meaning a remote control is one less thing to lug to a reporting site.

So using drones for reporting is obviously a “fun idea,” but is it feasible and is it important?

The FAA’s recent political decision-making around the commercial use of drones has made this a real possibility for reporting purposes. From using drones to investigate factory farms to monitoring police abuse during protests, journalists have already started adding these relatively low-cost devices to their news-gathering arsenals. On the “citizen journalism” side, we are seeing independent users creating incredible, sweeping shots – bringing viewers literally to new heights.

Although some argue they are restrictive to big idea concepts, these new rules will see an estimated 7,000-plus businesses obtain commercial aviation drone permits in the next three years. A number of them will be reporters and photojournalists. The FAA has even specifically engaged with the media community via university research programs to test the possibilities.

The time when drones will be in our news is not only imminent; it’s here.

From the sky to our wrist, hot new consumer technologies will change the way users are obtaining news and, therefore, the way we produce it.

Though not the first in its category, Apple Watch shows huge potential to present news in a quick, digestible way. Just as Twitter limited social media users to 140 characters to get their point across, the Apple Watch challenges media to carry across the news within a 42 millimeter space.

At Salon, when designing our application for the Apple Watch, we encountered a problem we’re familiar with just from creating content every day: How do we meet the demand for “right now” updates while still providing the long-form content that our users appreciate? For us, the solution was integrating with the iPhone app — making the wearable and the phone work as a unified storytelling experience.

While wearables emerge beyond this, extending to embedded microchips to digitized contact lenses and even clothing, we will likely continue to see the survival of the slightly larger screen for deeper content engagement.

Virtual reality
At Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, big developments in virtual reality news and entertainment emerged.

While HBO and Fox Searchlight made some amazing announcements and accomplishments at the event, it was Vice that stole the show, from a media perspective. Presenting a 360-degree experience of the Millions March in New York City, a critical moment in the social justice movement sweeping across the U.S., Vice’s Chris Milk and Spike Jonze revealed what this technology can mean for news and storytelling. Given the technology, anyone today or even years in the future can experience a part of that powerful event.

From a hardware perspective, low-price options, like Google’s cardboard headset and phone integrated options like Samsung’s Gear VR, broaden access to these technologies and have the potential to open virtual reality media experiences to a wider audience.

These technologies are no longer sci-fi fantasies or Jetson flying car dreams. These products exist.

Media consumption leans toward frequent check-ins and a desire for a first-person narrative. Technologies like wearables, drones and virtual reality offer us a natural extension for our storytelling while delivering on the instant gratification and unique vantage point that users are looking for. I, for one, welcome the new wave of innovation and am excited by the opportunities it presents to the world of media.


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