The New York Times’ new VR project is for a movie studio

The New York Times and the Weinstein Company have launched “Carol: Dearest…” the first virtual reality project from the publisher’s native advertising unit for a movie studio — and the first one of its kind that lets viewers control the action. The ad is for the studio’s upcoming movie, “Carol.”

The Times’ T Brand Studio launched the experience today. It’s the fourth VR advertiser film from the publisher since its November launch of NYT VR, a mobile app that uses Google Cardboard and headphones to create immersive experiences.

Editorially, the Times has used VR to tell stories of “The Displaced,” about three refugee kids in South Sudan, Ukraine and Lebanon; and “Vigils in Paris,” following the Paris terror attacks.

From the advertiser end, GE, Mini and Lufthansa are the brands the publisher has worked with. Sebastian Tomich, senior vp of advertising and innovation, said that there’s an average of one advertising video per editorial film, although that might change and the option is “on the table” for more brand work.

The Times’ declined to disclose the pricing on the ad but agency sources told Digiday that the initial buy, for GE, was in the $1 million range but that the price might have come down subsequently.

In the case of “Carol: Dearest…” the Times Magazine told T Brand Studio that its film that week would be about “Great Performers,” celebrities and iconic flight scenes (the VR option lets viewers feel as though they’re flying next to celebrities.) Upon hearing that, Tomich’s team started approaching movie partners for the advertiser film that would accompany “Great Performers.” The Weinstein Company has historically been a great partner, said Tomich, and since “Carol” is in contention for an Oscar next year, it felt like the right film to start with.

For the VR video, which was made with experiential agency Fake Love, viewers can experience multiple vignettes from the movie such as a department store, a house, outdoor landscapes and restaurants.

(Coincidentally, Great Performers also has an appearance from Rooney Mara, who is also in “Carol.”)

Ad buyers said the Times’ VR ad offering could have substantial impact for brands. Noah Mallin, head of social at MEC, said that VR for brands seems worthwhile, especially because of the interest that was generated by the Times when it delivered the Google Cardboard with the physical newspaper to announce its app’s launch. “The challenge for this next round is that the novelty factor is diminished and the true reach of VR-enabled users is still relatively small,” he said. Once more consumer options and cheaper headset hits the market, this will change.

T Brand Studio today has 60 people, and the GE VR work was its 100th piece of content since it launched mid-2014. The virtual reality team doesn’t operate separately — Tomich said that the way the technology is evolving, VR is one day just going to be an enhanced version of video. Since NYT VR’s launch, there have been 1 million video views to data and the average session of each user is eight minutes. Tomich said that advertiser films are performing about the same as editorial films. “When this came out we were curious to know if someone would download an ad,” he said. “The advertiser reception has been strong, but so has the audience.”

The Times will distribute “Carol: Dearest” via Facebook’s 360-degree video offering.

As Digiday reported this week, Facebook is also pitching brands on the possibilities of VR, albeit with Oculus Rift, which it bought last year for $2 billion. Facebook is talking to brands about sponsoring content in the virtual world.

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