The New York Times is launching a new virtual reality initiative called NYT VR, partnering with Google on the launch, and getting getting ready to release an immersive experience around the migrant crisis, the paper announced Tuesday.
More than a million home delivery subscribers will receive Google Cardboard, Google’s low-cost VR headset that mounts onto a smartphone, the weekend of November 7. (The viewer will come in a pouch attached to the delivery bag.) When they download the Times’ new, free VR app (in the Android and iOS app stores November 5), they’ll be able to watch the Times Magazine’s film “The Displaced,” which is about three children from South Sudan, eastern Ukraine, and Syria. (It was produced with VR company Vrse; Vrse and the Times Magazine previously worked together on a VR project on walking in New York in April.)
The Times wasn’t shy about promoting the effort.
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) October 20, 2015
Google Cardboard isn’t hard to get — you can make your own, or buy one from any number of manufacturers starting around $5 — but the Times’ giveaway is an intro for a wide group of people, most of whom aren’t likely to DIY it up themselves. In addition to the home delivery giveaway, “Times Insider subscribers and a selection of Times digital subscribers” will receive email promo codes for a viewer.
The Times will release two more VR films this year and more in 2016.“I think it’ll have a big impact on the overall rollout of VR,” Jake Silverstein, editor-in-chief of the magazine, told UploadVR. “The majority of people still see it as a gaming platform, so seeing it used in a really powerful and kind of classic journalistic sense is interesting [and] will really open people’s eyes.”
Other news organizations are also experimenting with VR, though the Times is the first to get hardware (however cheap and foldable) into readers’ hands. Frontline released its first VR documentary, the 11-minute “Ebola Outbreak: A Virtual Journey,” at ONA in September; it’s available for Google Cardboard now, and will be released for Facebook’s Oculus Rift next year.
The Times wouldn’t disclose who’s covering the cost of the Google Cardboard giveaway, though the press release mentions that “sponsors GE and MINI both deliver virtual reality films as part of the experience.” The film will also be released in old-fashioned 2D on NYTimes.com.