Posted in new media thoughts

New York Times steps into VR, a good way to develop readership?

As the most reputed media company around the world, the New York Times has taken a step into virtual reality in early November, exploring an innovative way of storytelling. Through NYT VR, users are able to watch news videos panoramically by moving the smartphone, or with a Google Cardboard viewer to better enhance the experience.

Although this trial is expected to win applause, comments from users actually tend to be negative. Most complaints come from user experience, either a sickness of headache, or technique problems of false display and bad compatibility for iPhone 6 plus. Meanwhile, despite of the superficial problems, further challenge lies in how to make technology just a contributor to journalism, rather than stealing most attentions of a story itself.

Good strategy to acquire readership from the young

As released in the New York Times: Innovation report, the prime goal for NYT, and all NYT-like media companies is getting their journalism to readers. Regarding to this goal, the VR experiment is a good strategy to acquire readership, supported by industry prospect and consumer behaviour.

Statistics of TrendForce estimates that the global VR market value will rocket to 70 billion in 2020, accompanied with steady rise from 2016 to 2019. This indicates that VR will reach a great number of audience and change the world to a larger extent in the future.


Remarkably, signals have shown that a large scale of industries are starting to use VR. Furthermore, according to Tractica, AR (Augmented Reality) technologies, considered as a broader extension of VR, are predicted to penetrate through far more industries, not limited to traditional industries like gaming and entertainment. The NYT VR is just a case in point.


And in terms of consumer, the majority readers of New York Times are business-oriented and upper-class that NYT wants to retain. The young generation, however, who are technology and innovation hooked, are accurately what NYT is hoping to attract. It’s hard to know how business people will interact with this gadget, whereas the young are most likely to show interest and give a WOW response.

But not good enough to retain readers

Although the VR experiment is an inspiring trial for this traditional giant media company to get closer to the heart of digital era, problems remain in two aspects- one is technique flaw; the other is the relationship between content and format, both ultimately turn to be complaints on user experience, as mentioned earlier.

Technologies alone can never be the reason for stable readership. For news industry, it should always be content that determines loyalty, while technology is just a compliment, contributing to a story with vitality. Otherwise, the fierce competition and particularly the threat of new entries will easily grab readers of less loyalty. For young people, they can convert to whatever platforms they like once they feel bored.

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It is not easy to generate a VR video that makes readers get the very point of a story without being distracted from others. But it is much easier to avoid meaningless videos that is solely aimed to show off the technology. Good content, sophisticated and innovative format, and the effort devoted, is surely to consolidate the readership from the loyalty to the new ones, which also make readers much tolerant to tiny flaws through the process of use.

So all in all,  it’s definitely true that VR will reshape many of the industries in near future, along with intensive competition. The New York Times has made a wise decision to step first into this domain ahead of all its competitors, and acquire young readers at the same time. However, the less decent usability and strong distraction of technology itself may harm the readership reversely. The key solution is to persist on good content, while utilising VR just a manner in a proper story.

For long, it has been so-called new media companies that force traditional media to make a change. It is high time for NYT-like companies to actively embrace new technologies. For the future of news industry, readers’ attention is what companies are competing for, while content is the king packaged by cutting-edge technologies.


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