Times pushes virtual reality, video series at its ‘NewFront’
The New York Times is adding virtual reality to its growing roster of video content as it races to scale digital revenues.
During a presentation to the advertising community Monday morning, the Times debuted its inaugural virtual reality film, "Walking the City." Made in conjunction with the production company VRSE, the five-minute short goes behind the scenes of the making of the latest New York Times Magazine cover, including a stomach-dropping shot from a helicopter high above a massive Flatiron District art installation.
Following a 50-minute presentation from Times executives and journalists showcasing the organization's latest video offerings, attendees viewed the film using virtual reality headsets from Google and Samsung. (It also can be seen on any smartphone via the VRSE app.)
Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein said the Times has "big plans" for integrating virtual reality into its content.
"We think the journalistic potential of this emerging technology is huge," he told the audience of several hundred.
The announcement comes as technology companies are scrambling to capitalize on the potentially lucrative virtual reality arena. Other media companies, such as Vice and Gannett, have also begun dabbling in the space.
There's no sponsor attached to the Times film, but virtual reality videos would seem to be a potentially monetizable platform for the company, which has been battling precipitous declines within its core print advertising business over the past several years. While digital advertising has been growing at the Times, the company has said video makes up less than 10 percent of total digital ad revenues. For 2014, that translates into less than $18.2 million out of $444.7 million in total company revenues.
In terms of content, video has grown significantly at the Times over the past couple of years. There are now several dozen original videos series across all areas of coverage, including a series for the travel franchise "36 Hours" that is being adapted into a television show for the Travel Channel." Last week, a Times video was for the first time included in a body of work that won a Pulitzer Prize. The video depicted harrowing scenes from last year's African Ebola outbreak.
"We are reinventing The New York Times, the greatest storyteller on earth, in a new medium for a new audience," said Bruce Headlam, managing editor for video.
Monday's presentation, held at the events space Skylight Modern in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, was the Times' second annual NewFront. Other NewFronts, modeled after the Upfronts hosted by television networks, are taking place throughout the city this week as media companies show off their latest digital video offerings to ad buyers.
The Times introduced forthcoming video series on subjects like family-run businesses, influential women from the Arab Spring uprisings and 2014 graduates of Detroit's public high school system. It also announced a new animated series tied to the Times' DealBook website, which DealBook founder Andrew Ross Sorkin described as "financial literacy for dummies." Series sponsors to date include Microsoft, Deloitte and Google.
On the business side, the Times revealed five filmmakers who were selectd from a pool of applicants to create videos for its native advertising platform, T Brand Studio. They include an Emmy Award winner, a Pulitzer nominee and a Netflix documentarian, said Sebastian Tomich, senior vice president for advertising and innovation. T Brand Studio has so far created video campaigns for Emirates, Holiday Inn, Cole Haan, Volvo and others.