Photo: Guido van Nispen (CC BY 2.0)

Five years after Hunger in LA and two years after Clouds over Sidra, everybody in digital media seems to talk about VR/360 journalism, and a lot of news organisations have given the medium a test drive. However, only international top players like the New York Times are able to publish quality content on a frequent basis (nytvr, NYT 360 video channel) – and even they are ages away from reaching a significant number of viewers.

“VR news still has a poor understanding of its audience both in terms of content, content discovery, and attitudes to the technology”, writes Zillah Watson in a recent report published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ). She also states that “production costs are still high” while “monetisation remains a central challenge”.

While we certainly don’t have a masterplan to change those facts over night, we’d like to present two simple ideas that could help VR journalism move forward.

1) Make existing content more visible.

If you have produced VR/360 content, it’s certainly a good idea to follow the NYT example and collect your material on a micro site or landing page tweaked by your SEO expert. In a world where most VR material is viewed on an Android device clamped into a Google Cardboard, offering a VR/360 app cannot hurt either.

However, a quick web search reveals that few news organisations showcase what they have. VR/360 is featured here and there and now and then in no particular order. A lot of times, index pages feature content *about* VR/360 rather than actual VR/360 content.
In Germany, laudable exceptions to the rule include public broadcasters ARD (and within it: RBB and WDR), Arte, and ZDF as well as SZ, a leading newspaper. Yet even here some editors tend to forget about providing context and a proper introduction to a medium that is still new to many viewers. So tout your VR/360 content – and tell your audience how to get the most out of it.

2) Produce more content on a budget.

While Oculus Rift and HTC Vive experiences involving CGI and videogrammetry are certainly a blast, they are quite expensive to produce and won’t reach a lot of people. So why not produce more budget content that average consumers can enjoy on their average phones? Every organisation can afford a basic camera (like the Samsung Gear 360). And with a tool like Fader you can create and publish your VR/360 story in no time. All you have to do is get the basics right, make sure the story is compelling, and properly promote it on your social media channels.

The more content you produce, the more you contribute to establishing the medium while increasing your chances of landing a hit. And don’t worry if your video isn’t a meticulously crafted HD production: A lot of journalistic web video content isn’t succesful because it’s top-notch bleeding edge, but because it’s interesting, intriguing, and *good enough* in terms of quality. This insight probably applies to the realm of VR/360, too.

(Alexander Plaum)