LAS VEGAS — USA Today is currently in production on a second “season” of its own virtual reality series, as it gears up to offer brands new ways to sell into the medium.
A year ago at the Consumer Electronics Show, chief revenue officer Kevin Gentzel announced to Beet.TV the company would be making daily VR content. Now USA Today has a weekly show, VRtually There, plus ad hoc productions and sponsor content in its VR strand.
A year later, Gentzel tells Beet.TV: The show has been a huge success, we’ve built a loyal audience already. Our shows are seeing millions of views by users across devices … on the touch web in 360 experiences, utilising (Google) Cardboard and all the way through the VR hardware space to Rift and Vive.
“In season two, which we’re currently shooting, we’re going to focus on three content themes…
- “VIP experiences – what it’s like to be backstage at a July 4th fireworks show.
- “Hardcore adventure experiences – what it’s like to be swimming with sharks…
- “American experiences like the American ballet theatre.”
So far, USA Today’s VR play has focused on visual spectacle over out-and-out storytelling. Perhaps such a tactic more naturally fits the novel medium than reportage.
The first live production under the VRtually There strand is the inauguration of new US president Donald Trump.
The publisher isn’t just producing editorial content, it also wants to make VR content for brand sponsors. Last year, Toyota, Macy’s, Amazon and Alcatel all paid USA Today for VR. For example:
- USA Today’s recent VR trip around Talinn, Estonia, includes pre-roll and mid-roll for Toyota.
- Its VR video putting viewers inside a burning building includes sponsorship from Nest, but outside of the video unit entirely.
But USA Today has also built an ad format it’s calling the “cubemercial“, for creating advertiser experiences inside the VR content itself.
Next up, Gentzel thinks brands are going to want to offer VR experiences through the publisher. “You’ll see us experiment more in 2017, likely to include experiential experiences for brands,” he tells Beet.TV. “Courageous brands are stepping up, saying ‘we want to experiment with this’.”
USA Today is on the cusp of discovering what works in this new medium. But it’s likely publishers and brands alike are going to be sensitive to over-delivery of advertising in what is a highly intimate media environment.