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Broadcasters explore VR as a key storytelling tool

By Josephine Tan

SINGAPORE – Virtual reality (VR) is set to “radically change” the way media is consumed, promising consumers an immersive experience and interaction on a level of engagement never imagined before, declared Doreen Neo, chief content officer, Mediacorp.

Neo, speaking at the launch of Mediacorp Studio’s VR Incubator Programme, said the programme aims to produce “compelling experiential content for the next generation of viewers”.

Kick-started last November, the 12-month acceleration programme is designed to provide in-house training for Mediacorp personnel, providing them with VR knowledge, from content creation to post production.

As part of the programme, Mediacorp is also grooming at least 20 internal VR experts to produce VR content within the next 12 months. At least six VR content productions are in the pipeline, including both scripted and live 360 events, which will be delivered across Mediacorp’s online and social media platforms.

Neo added: “Mediacorp Studios has been producing dramas and variety programmes for more than three decades. Now, we want to deliver VR content extended from our popular intellectual properties (IPs), as well as creating original stories to give viewers the level of engagement and immersive experience which is the current global trend.”

Another broadcaster who believes in the power of VR as a story­telling tool is the BBC, who recently announced the establishment of a new VR studio — the BBC VR Hub.

A continuation of the BBC’s experimentation in VR over the past few years, the VR Hub is designed to spearhead the BBC’s VR production while exploring how the technology is able to create “real audience impact”.

Operating as an internal hub, the new unit will work with programme makers and digital experts across the BBC to produce, create and commission VR content.

Each commission is targeted at a specific set of audience needs and occasions, thus ensuring the VR experience is compelling enough to encourage viewers to put on a VR headset.

Zillah Watson, head of content commissioning for the VR Hub, wrote in a blog post: “VR has proven itself as an exciting new medium. Storytellers have been quick to recognise its potential as a means to transport viewers to immersive and believable locations. That opened up a whole new world of possibilities in the art of storytelling.

“Instead of witnessing a story, viewers are now at the heart of it.”

VR is about designing the virtual world, and the most important elements in VR are presence and embodiment, said Salar Shahna, CEO and co-founder of the World VR Forum (WVRF).

He told APB: “Presence enhances the immersive side of VR, which is different to putting on a 3D goggle during a film. In a film, the viewer is merely an observer, but with VR, it places the viewer as part of the virtual world.”

To help broadcasters tap into VR, WVRF partnered the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) during the Cross Video Days event last October to promote VR/AR, and will be sharing their expertise at the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) Digital Broadcasting Symposium (DBS) 2018 this March in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Broadcasters can be a strong backbone for VR because of the network, finance and expertise in creation of content that they already have, Shahna suggested. “Asia is big, especially with China having its specificity in rolling out VR.

“Hence, we have to understand the specificity of each region while finding ways of collaborations, because if Asia can collaborate as an unified region, it will help in the creation of better content.”

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