The Guardian bets big on VR: ‘We’ve jumped in the deep end of the pool’
The Guardian took the wrapper off its first-ever VR project yesterday, an exploration of solitary confinement and its effects on the prisoner’s psyche. “6×9 A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement” is the fruit of nine months’ labor — and is just the first of many more to come.
The effort would seem an extravagance at a time of belt-tightening at The Guardian, which has plans to cut costs by 20 percent over the next three years. But with video on the lips of all publishers, and VR thought the next big thing in video, The Guardian does not see VR as a nice-to-have side project.
“VR is no fad. It will be even more important in a year’s time,” said Aron Pilhofer, The Guardian’s executive editor of digital. “We [publishers] are all trying to figure out where it fits in our overall video strategies, but we know it will be a bigger and bigger part of what we do.”
Pilhofer is confident VR offers good commercial opportunities. For starters, the 6×9 project had six sponsors (Google News Labs, Tribeca Film Institute, Chicken and Egg Pictures, Frontline, Solitary Watch and Incarcerated Nation), making the cost of the project less forbidding for the publisher.
“The New York Times has demonstrated for them that it’s profitable,” he said. They’ve led the way in terms of having a blend of editorially led and sponsored projects.”
For this project, The Guardian worked with special-effects studio The Mill to create a virtual 6×9-foot prison cell. It then had former inmates from prisons in California and New York describe how being thrust into solitary confinement for between 22 and 24 hours a day affected them psychologically.
One prisoner described his hallucinations, which included visions of his mother. As he talks, the viewer sees the haunting image of a person flicker in the cell. Another prisoner relates that he used to think he was floating in the air. As he talks, the viewer rises disorientingly above the cell bed.
The experience can be had through a VR headset like Google Cardboard (retail price $15/ £10) or via a Guardian app. Those using the app can listen to the audio and navigate around the room in 360-degree video without being physically immersed in the environment.
The Guardian had a team of three people who worked on creating the project, spearheaded by its multimedia special projects editor Francesca Panetta last August who was the sole full-timer on the project. Two of them became involved late last year. In all, Panetta interviewed six male inmates and one female for the project.
Viewers trigger different stories depending on what they look at. For example, if you look at a letter that’s on the bed, that triggers the audio of the former inmate reading the letter. That means there are several different ways a person can experience the story, depending on what order they look at objects in the cell. It’s sort of a choose-your-own-solitary-confinement adventure.
The Guardian is putting a lot of effort behind marketing the VR experience. That will entail the usual promotion across its social channels, but it will also be followed by a load of other editorial content to support it and extend the narrative, while driving people back to the VR experience. A video depicting the story of one of the inmate’s families will accompany the experience, as will numerous other articles and additional, extended podcast interviews with the inmates.
“We deliberately picked an ambitious subject matter,” said Pilhofer. “We walked to the deep end of the pool and jumped in to see what a project like this would entail.”
SXM Media’s Lizzie Widhelm on the challenges advertisers face with podcast ad buying
Lizzie Widhelm, svp of ad innovation and B2B marketing at SXM Media, discusses announcer versus host-read ads in podcasts, measurement challenges and audience targeting -- and where she sees the industry going in 2022.
Member ExclusiveDigiday+ Research: Alternate identifiers now figure in advertising deals for two thirds of publishers
Regardless of size, publishers are taking a careful approach to incorporating alternate identifiers into their businesses.
TikTok taps BuzzFeed to produce the first sponsored weekly live shows on the platform
BuzzFeed and TikTok will experiment with layering branded content into Live episodes on the platform, as well as how to establish predictable viewership for livestream videos.
SponsoredHow advertisers are shifting mindsets to succeed amid iOS 15 and other identity challenges
On top of the impending cookie deprecation, Apple’s recent iOS 15 changes are causing concern for many advertisers by affecting pixels, IP addresses and email addresses. While these upcoming changes may be concerning for many, shifting mindsets and getting away from a binary way of thinking with solutions being 100% contextual or 100% universal IDs […]
How 2021 taught Gallery Media to quickly adapt its TikTok playbook
Running both editorial and branded TikTok channels has given Gallery Media a clearer understanding of what audiences are willing to watch and engage with on the social media platform.
Here’s why Outbrain is buying Video Intelligence for $55 million
Outbrain and Taboola are using M&A to prove differentiation as public companies.