GMA executive producer Michael Corn said as soon as he learned it was possible to bring viewers a live show using virtual reality technology, he was all in as a safari seemed like the perfect exotic and unique live event to bring to viewers using virtual reality.
The 360-degree safari debuted on February 23 as a live virtual reality event incorporated into the two-hour broadcast. Animal Planet wildlife expert Dave Salmoni and GMA news anchor Amy Robach took a jeep ride through Crater Highlands in Tanzania, Africa during the “great migration” where two million animals search for food.
The segments featured elephants, rhinos, hippos, and other wildlife. ABC also employed five drones to capture aerials of the Ngorongoro Crater, which is part of the protected Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the neighboring Serengeti National Park, a safari mecca populated by big game such as lions, buffalo, and leopards.
The video is now available on ABCNews.com/VR and the virtual reality-specific content can be downloaded through the IM360 app on Apple and Android devices. Users who don’t own a Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, or another virtual reality headset can still explore the fixed-camera, 360-degree view of the crater by using a tablet’s accelerometer or using controlling the perspective via a PC. During the broadcast "GMA" anchors demonstrated the virtual reality content on a tablet.
IM360 also worked with MTV last year to livestream the red carpet arrivals at the "Video Music Awards" in Los Angeles.
“The 360-degree video adds another element of interaction for our viewers,” said Corn. “Unlike traditional video, the viewer can now immerse themselves into the reporting and will feel like they are actually on the safari with Amy. They can control the experience on their desktop and mobile devices for the first time.”
It's part of an experiment by ABC, which is owned by Disney, to explore livestreamed virtual reality content. The production comes as Samsung is literally giving away its Gear VR mobile headsets for free to consumers.
Piper Jaffray senior analyst Gene Munster predicted sales of virtual reality headsets will grow from 12.2 million in 2016 to 100.2 million by 2020. Before the free Gear VR promotion, Munster had forecast sales of five million Gear VRs this year.
That opens up a larger audience for news organizations to tap into, and virtual reality often targets a younger demographic.
“This is our first foray in VR,” Corn said. “I would love to see more of this type of technology used in future events we are planning. It has to be the right fit for the show and add a sense of value for the viewer.”
Clifton Dawson, CEO of research firm Greenlight VR, said virtual reality can be a very powerful tool for journalists because it brings audiences much closer to a story than conventional mediums.
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"VR, and 360-video in particular, gives news organizations a new vehicle to share stories with younger viewers that may expand the audience for their programming and, even create entirely new ad products,"Dawson said.
There's also another plus for news organizations that create 360-degree content that's evergreen, such as the "GMA on Safari" segment.
"The proliferation of mobile viewers will further encourage experimentation by broadcasters, and there's now a lot more serious discussion about measurement and campaign effectiveness," Dawson said. "It's early, but we're starting to see very encouraging outcomes in post-viewing recall and reaction measures, particularly among younger viewers."