In late May 2017, RTV Slo, the national radio and television organization in Slovenia, conducted a small VR experiment on their news portal website in an effort to increase engagement.
A big problem for online media portals is how to keep the content engaging enough to get return viewers, and with so much media saturation these days, news companies are losing the battle for attention.
While time spent on interacting with smartphones has increased drastically over the years, the bite-sized news that users read via social media does not always effectively translate to repeat viewers for news websites.
Time Spent per Adult User per Day with Digital Media, USA, 2008-2015
Traditional news giants, like The New York Times, have recently switched to using immersive technologies as a way to retain users. Using VR with their app, the Times takes their viewers to the top of 1 World Trade Center, on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina and even to Pluto. Using simple Google Cardboard VR headsets, the NYT was able to distribute them to millions of viewers who were able to experience the new way of storytelling.
Other well-established media companies followed the NYT’s VR charge, and now immersive journalism is being used on a regular basis by Huffington Post, CNN, BBC, The Guardian and others.
The Planica Experiment
Slovenian national TV wanted to test the waters as well. Matej Praprotnik and Mitja Celic, the producers of RTV, created a short documentary of Planica (a world famous ski ramp) using Viar360 – an interactive virtual reality publishing platform.
The goal was to allow viewers to visit locations at Planica where they typically cant access, such as the top of the ski ramp, a broadcast room and or a helicopter ride.
Once the producers gathered enough 360˚ image and video content from these locations, they edited it using the Viar360 storyboard. Once completed, they published the story on the MMC news portal without any major press or announcements.
You can see Planica360 by clicking on the image below:
The Planica 360 virtual reality story went live on Saturday, 27th of May 2017. Within 48 hours, it gathered more than 5500 views which for a country as small as Slovenia, is quite an achievement. Among the 5500 views, 27% of the audience watched the story more than once.
Viewers who watched the documentary using a VR headset spent twice as much time being engaged, as opposed to those who used the standard mobile or desktop browser. When asked about how much time they thought they spent in VR, the user’s typical guess was 2x less than the actual viewing time. Those who watched for 10 min or longer, often assumed that they watched for 5 min or less. The perceived time was, in this case, much lower than the actual one.
Using Viar360 heat mapping and analytics, they were also able to see where the viewers were focusing. For example, when the athlete jumped from a ramp, the viewer’s attention was focused on the athlete. Below is a 360˚ video heat map report from an athlete’s jump. The red zones represent viewers attention.
Because of the Viar360 interactive capabilities, the viewers were also prompted to choose the direction of what scene they would like to view next. On average, viewers interacted 3.3 times in the documentary.
In summary, the experiment received a lot of attention from other media organizations and a lot of important insight were gained. The data regarding the increased engagement factor from the content shows some very exciting potential for the future of immersive media and analytics.
VIAR is a virtual reality startup based in Seattle and Slovenia. Viar360 is an intuitive VR publishing platform that reduces time, effort and knowledge required to create highly engaging interactive virtual reality experiences from 360˚ videos and photos. The publishing platform is free to try out.
For more information, go to the Viar360 website.
Dejan Gajsek is VR/AR evangelist, digital marketer and growth person at Viar360 and ViarBox.