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Why the AP Just Launched a Virtual Reality News Channel

The AP brought the UPS Worldport facility in Louisville, Ky., to life through 360-degree video.The AP brought the UPS Worldport facility in Louisville, Ky., to life through 360-degree video.
The AP brought the UPS Worldport facility in Louisville, Ky., to life through 360-degree video.AP

The Associated Press has launched a dedicated virtual reality site in collaboration with AMD to increase its focus on bringing 360-degree news storytelling to the growing number of mobile headsets in the global marketplace.

As a part of the collaboration, the AP will leverage AMD Radeon graphics and LiquidVR technology to create virtual reality content that will play on high-end platforms such as Facebook’s (FB) Oculus Rift, Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation VR, and the HTC (HTC) Vive. All of this content will also be available across mobile devices such as Google (GOOGL) Cardboard, Samsung (SSNLF) Gear VR, and Mattel’s (MAT) VR View Master.

“AP has a rich history of working with emerging technology over the past 170 years to bring the audience closer to the news,” says Paul Cheung, director of interactive and digital news production at the AP. “Virtual reality is one of the most immersive new approaches to storytelling, so it’s a natural fit with what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Cheung says the AP began exploring 360-degree news reporting last August with its behind-the-scenes look at UPS’s (UPS) Worldport, a massive packaging and sorting facility in Louisville, Ky. The AP also collaborated with RYOT News to document the journey of migrants and refugees in Northern France hoping to make it across the English Channel to start a new life in the United Kingdom.

“Virtual reality comes up pretty often in our planning meetings,” Cheung says. “From the Oscars to the Olympics to a breaking news situation like ‘El Chapo’s’ escape, my team is constantly thinking about whether there’s a virtual reality opportunity to bring the audience closer to the news.”

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The current live-action 360-degree landscape is like the Wild West of production, as companies such as Nokia (NOK), Bubl, Jaunt (a Nokia partner), GoPro (GPRO), Lucid, Matterport, and Otoy launch new cameras. At the same time, there are challenges in postproduction in editing and “stitching” the 360-degree content together in a timely and cohesive manner.

Sasa Marinkovic, global head of VR marketing at AMD (AMD), says the tech company will provide the virtual reality expertise, state-of-art development platforms, and postproduction support creation of the AP’s 360-degree news experiences.

“Using VR technology, people will be able to able to walk around a scene, pause, rewind, and see historic events from different vantage points, to feel present at the event,” Marinkovic says. “Every detail can be thoroughly researched and reproduced. The technology can enable us to figuratively walk in another’s shoes, leading to greater understanding and empathy. We are witnessing the dawn of a new medium with VR that could revolutionize storytelling.”

The AP isn’t the first news organization to make the leap to virtual reality. Cheung says the initial success from The New York Times’ virtual reality app shows there is a sustainable interest from the audience to consume news in this new way.

“VR is generating a lot of excitement and experimentation among various media companies, and the amount of VR news content will surely grow,” Cheung says. “Importantly, my team is working closely with AP’s standards editor and other news leaders to ensure all the pieces adhere to AP’s journalistic standards.”

According to research firm Tractica, more than 200 million consumer virtual reality headsets will be sold worldwide by 2020. The company forecasts that consumer virtual reality hardware and content revenue will increase from $108.8 million in 2014 to $21.8 billion worldwide by 2020, with a compound annual growth rate of 142%.

Already, Google has sold or distributed over 5 million Cardboards worldwide, and Samsung has been selling out of its Gear VR devices. The upcoming consumer launches of Oculus Rift in March, the HTC Vive in April, and PlayStation VR this summer will add to this growing audience.

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“With VR, I believe we can reach a diverse audience that cuts across age, race, geography, and interests,” Cheung says. “AP prides itself on covering a very wide variety of news topics, and our VR projects will aim to reflect that.”

With companies such as Facebook, Sony, Microsoft, AMD, Nvidia (NVDA), HTC, Samsung, and Intel (INTC) investing billions of dollars into this emerging market, news organizations will continue to invest in virtual reality.

“l believe VR and 360 will be a natural extension of photos and videos, just like moving pictures going from black and white to color,” Cheung says. “It’s the way we see the world.”