Toyota to Sponsor USA Today’s New Virtual Reality Show

October 20, 2016, 3:41 PM UTC
Inside Tokyo Game Show 2015
An attendee tries a Google Inc. Cardboard virtual reality headset at the Tokyo Game Show 2015 at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan, on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. There will be record attendance at this year's show with 473 vendors, including more than half from abroad, as of Sept. 1, according to organizers.
Photograph by Tomohiro Ohsumi — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Toyota Motor Corp is testing a new type of advertising by running the first commercial designed to be viewed within USA Today’s new virtual reality program.

The ad for Toyota’s 2017 Camry will debut Thursday when it sponsors the first episode of “VRtually There,” said the show’s creator, Gannett Co Inc’s USA Today. The show, announced in March, can be seen on USA Today apps and YouTube with a VR headset such as Alphabet Inc’s Google Cardboard.

Each episode will last about five to seven minutes and mostly feature inspirational and adventure stories, Niko Chauls, director of applied technologies for the USA Today Network, said in an interview.

Virtual reality, the panoramic technology with roots in gaming, is still in its infancy and has yet to go mainstream. Content makers such as Gannett and advertisers are trying to figure out how to make money with virtual reality content and advertising.

Gannett wanted to be a pioneer in virtual reality and set the standard for ads in the emerging technology, Chauls said.

Chauls dubbed Toyota’s ad a “cubemercial,” because viewers see visuals as though they are placed on four walls around them with blank space when one turns their head toward the floor and ceiling.

More brands will advertise in upcoming episodes, said Kelly Andresen, Gannett’s vice president of branded content. She declined to provide additional details.

To tap potential revenue streams, Gannett’s bet on virtual reality is part of an expansion beyond the declining print business. The company is testing new digital content and ad formats, while making acquisitions in the newspaper business to expand its footprint.

After the premiere, the new show will air at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) every Thursday.

Gannett’s first show features three segments with adventure and travel experiences such as the landing of an F18 carrier and the annual hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The show can be accessed through the USA Today app, the USA Today Network’s VR Stories app and on the “VRtually There” YouTube channel, USA Today said. Those who do not have VR headsets can watch the show on mobile devices and desktop computers that can display video in a 360-degree view.