For as long as the news has been televised, producers have been striving to give viewers the most immediate, most visceral look at what is going on. On Wednesday, ABC News announced something that will bring people closer than ever to that experience: ABC News VR. The broadcaster's first virtual reality piece, a collaboration between the Disney-owned broadcaster and JAUNT, a virtual reality technology company that’s known more for entertainment content like music videos and fashion shows, called "Inside Syria VR," is a five-minute look at Syrian landmarks and some of the work Syria's cultural historians are doing to preserve the antiquities that have come under attack from ISIS.
“We’ve all witnessed the enormous toll,” ABC News President James Goldston wrote in a note circulated to staff. “ABC NEWS VR will enable viewers to immerse themselves in a 360 degree virtual reality experience within Syria.”
The experience, which more closely resembles a guided tour than a newscast, gives viewers a glimpse at some of the historic sites in the Syrian capital, including the Damascus Citadel and Souk, the Umayyad Mosque and the National Museum, where items from conflict zones are being catalogued and stored as quickly as possible, to get them stored away at a secret location. The piece, narrated by correspondent Alexander Marquardt, is meant to work as a kind of companion to a longer piece Marquardt produced for “Nightline” that will air Wednesday night.
It is also something of an experiment. While ABC News producers used a JAUNT virtual reality camera to create the piece and worked together, the two companies have no formal partnership and are not expected to announce one any time soon. Similarly, ABC News has not begun thinking about how or when it might begin trying to monetize or expand its virtual reality capabilities.
ABC's producers received training on how to use JAUNT's cameras earlier this summer, just days before one flew to the Middle East to work with Marquardt and his producers. And while ABC producers are thinking about ways to incorporate the technology into coverage of the biggest upcoming stories, the broadcaster does not intend to tack VR segments onto everything it covers in depth.
“We’ll be incredibly selective in what we do,” ABC News’s Executive Producer of Digital Dan Silver wrote in comments provided to International Business Times. “For us, VR is just another storytelling tool. So we’ll be evaluating opportunities as we would any of our short documentaries or long form written pieces.”
At the moment, possible targets for use include the ongoing opening up of Cuba, Pope Francis's upcoming visit to the United States, and of course, the all-consuming march toward the 2016 presidential election. “2016 clearly has a lot of juicy narratives that could provide great 360 visuals,” Silver wrote.
“Inside Syria VR” is viewable on both Android and Apple smartphones.
[UPDATE: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly referred to Silver as the vice president of digital at ABC News.]