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USA Today doubles down on VR, risking big on weekly content

USA Today is the latest to adopt virtual reality for editorial content, but is doing so in a big way by investing in a weekly news show presented entirely in VR.

VRtually There is produced and distributed in partnership with YouTube and launch sponsor Toyota, and will be supported by ads also filmed in virtual reality. USA Today?s adoption of virtual reality for a weekly program represents the technology?s continued appeal to the media and entertainment industries while also demonstrating the possibility for branded partnerships.

"We?ve been bringing VR content to our audience of over 110M since 2014, with our first award-winning piece, 'Harvest of Change,'" said Niko Chauls, director of applied technology at USA Today. "Since then, we?ve continued to experiment in the medium across our NETWORK.

"Unlike other content creators, we have teams across our NETWORK that are trained in VR production which allows us to create more content for consumers. In addition to finding VR content on the USA TODAY app, we also have a dedicated VR app called VR Stories. 

"And, with the increase of viewing devices on the market and the investments of companies like Facebook, Google, Samsung, HTC and many more, we only see growth potential for VR. We are one of the original content creators in VR and want to continue to be a place for consumers to come regularly for great immersive VR experiences."

VRtually There
The program will air each week and provides USA Today journalists with the tools to tell immersive stories in full virtual reality.

Each episode will air on Thursdays at 2 pm ET and will be comprised of three segments specially designed to be viewed in VR. The stories are shot from a first-person perspective.

Every episode of VRtually There will be available through the USA Today mobile application, USA Today?s VR Stories app and from YouTube, which has a 60 day exclusivity deal for each episode.

VRtually There is meant to be viewed from a mobile device and does not require anything more complicated than a cardboard headset such as the ones produced by Google. While mobile is USA Today?s stated ideal mode for viewing, the program will also be available on other devices and desktop computers.

USA Today has hired David Hamlin, an Emmy-winning producer and director formerly of National Geographic, to produce the show and determine its editorial direction.

In addition to the newsworthy stories being served to viewers, USA Today is also announcing the first ad unit designed explicitly for virtual reality, the ?cubemercial.?

The cubemercial format is meant to give brands a standardized templates for designing and serving ads in virtual reality ? a process that is still young. USA Today is debuting the first cubemercial through its launch partner, Toyota.

The first cubemercial will be a 60 second ad for the new Toyota Camry.

USA Today is working with GET Creative to work branded content into the broadcast in a way that is non-intrusive and takes full advantage of the unique format.

While virtual reality has mainly been the domain of the gaming and larger entertainment industries, it has recently become focus of a number of broadcasting and media ventures ? including a regular broadcast from Fox Sports covering college football (see story).

What?s most notable is USA Today?s introduction of a standardized virtual reality ad format. In a time when brands and marketers are getting more excited by the possibilities of VR without a clear understanding of how to best take advantage of it, a standardized format could provide the stability needed to truly monetize VR broadcasts.

"The cubemercial is what we believe is the first ad unit native to virtual reality," Mr. Chauls said. "The ad places the viewer in a 'cube' immersing consumers in a brand experience. 

"This opportunity between the consumer and the brand that is not available in any other medium and we are very excited for the possibilities to create very unique interactions with brands."