Virtual reality and 360 video still not profitable in Latin American journalism, but they are attracting new audiences

This story is part of a series on Innovative Journalism in Latin America and the Caribbean.(*)

Innovative journalistic projects in Latin America that use virtual reality and 360 video technologies still do not generate new revenue for media outlets, but they have managed to broaden audience, especially among the younger public, according to journalists involved in their production.

The first part of this article covered Latin American media outlets' initial experiences with virtual reality and 360 video. In the second half, we talked with Todo Noticias of Argentina, Diario Financiero in Chile and TV Globo of Brazil about distribution platforms, audience and business models for these innovative projects.

Although these media organizations usually post their 360 videos on their own websites, both Diario Financiero as well as Todo Noticias and TV Globo agree that, at the moment, the most effective way to distribute these products is via social networks, especially Facebook and YouTube.

Both social networks offer advantages and disadvantages for the 360 video experience. YouTube allows the use of cardboards for a totally stereophonic experience, a possibility not offered by Facebook. However, Mark Zuckerberg’s social network provides wide-scale diffusion.

“We realized that we could publish 360 videos on Facebook, because while YouTube had them, at least 40 or 45 percent of our traffic comes from Facebook,” said Federico Willoughly of Diario Financiero. “When you move them through Facebook, they reach an audience that maybe knows Diario Financiero for these 360 videos. I think that Facebook is very good for moving content, it has more impact. At the moment, we are betting more on Facebook than YouTube.”

Although it’s very premature to talk about an economic benefit directly from the 360 videos, the impact that this new product has on social networks has represented another kind of profit for the companies: an increase in audience.

“A year into the first video, we already have almost 2.5 million views in our 360 videos. Viewing of videos exceeded 50 percent. That is, people are watching more than half the video, and a large percentage finish it. That does not usually happen with videos on social networks,” said Juan Ignacio Sixto from Todo Noticias.

In the case of Diario Financiero in Chile, the audience on its site has grown 120 percent since June, which is when it launched its first 360 video. Additionally, its Facebook followers are growing at a rate of 12 percent per month. The media outlet does not rule out that this increase in popularity on the network can soon translate into economic benefit, through coalitions with other companies.

“The most relevant thing is that DF Videos is being set up as a business unit that on the one hand attracts audiences and allows the selling of advertising, but on the other hand we are closing alliances with banks and other institutions to make programs under the wing of DF Videos. Those kinds of product sales are easier when we showcase the innovations that we are making and how far we want to go,” Willoughby said.

Likewise, Todo Noticias used the alliance with other companies in Argentina as a strategy to expand the scope of its 360-degree content: the television station allied itself with Movistar and the electronics chain Garbarino which served as distributors of their official cardboards.

“We first understood the tool and the way of telling stories, then we get the audience and now we are capitalizing on the possibility of expanding, giving more content, having commercial collaboration so that this can also be a business for the company, another source of income, and above all permit us to reinvest in our teams,” Sixto said.

After these first attempts to introduce their audiences to the immersive experience, the media companies are aiming to integrate 360 videos into their daily coverage, both journalistic and entertainment, with the goal of finding stories that justify the use of the 360 camera.

“With every new technology, you pay a lot of attention only on technology, but not on content, and I believe that should change. People watch 360 videos because they make them feel something. If we do not find the right stories, the novelty will pass in a few months. We need to find really good stories and how to tell them,” Eduardo Acquarone said.

The challenge of integrating 360 videos into the newsrooms of Latin American media adds to the challenge of overcoming the economic and technological barriers of the region. In a time when media companies cut more staff than they hire, it becomes more difficult to boost innovations like immersive videos and virtual reality.

“In the last two years we have been through difficult times in Brazil, so most likely we will not hire staff to do 360 videos. We need to handle this with the people already in the newsroom. We need to create a good workflow to make this product something of value to the company,” Acquarone said of the situation at TV Globo.

This is compounded by the problem of connectivity in Latin America, as well as the capacity of servers. At TV Globo, the demand for their videos online is so high that it exceeds the capacity of its own servers, so they have to resort to external servers of companies like Amazon, which incurs an extra cost.

“The challenge is for people to access content seamlessly and not have connectivity problems and get frustrated. The fear we have as creators is that people have a bad experience and condemn the platform. That is the risk when you do something very new: that people cannot consume it in its entirety,” Sixto said.

However, the media companies agree the main challenge of the 360 videos is the responsible use of this format as presented to the audience, as well as the cultural change that these new technology represent for traditional journalism.

“There is a mission to generate novelty and innovation by testing new technology and to see how far it can go into the DNA of your media outlet. The 360-degree camera goes inside the innovation of a newspaper that has to be at the same level with the technologies to try to reach new audiences. I do not think that 360 videos are a luxury or an eccentricity. It is something that is going to pay over time,” Willoughby said.

Placing the audience at the site and in the atmosphere of news events can be a double-edged sword: while an immersive video can make the facts clearer, it can also be an unpleasant experience, especially for tragic or violent news events.

“I think immersion is something very powerful. In a way, it is important that the audience is immersed in the atmosphere of the news, but we have to choose the topics well. People may not like what they see, not because the video is bad, but because you are putting them in a reality that could be very hard,” Acquarone said. “We need to be aware of the different reactions on the user’s side. I think the 360 videos are very powerful, so we have to be careful.”

Whether they are used in journalism or entertainment, the ultimate goal of 360 videos will be to turn the camera into the eyes of the audience without the mediation of a journalist as a simple narrator of events. That is, to place people as the protagonists and to have the testimonies speak directly to them.

“There is still a long way to go in the technology, but I think we have already seen the potential of the content. We are walking alongside technological development, so we do not really know what is going to happen. But I think that the potential lies in the way stories are told, in the possibility of putting people in the shoes of another, in the place where things happen,” Sixto concluded.



Diario Financiero – Revista Capital

  • Watch 360 videos
  • Chile
  • Project start date: June 2016
  • Distribution of cardboards
  • Investment: less than $1,000
  • Responsible: Federico Willoughby, digital media manager of Diario Financiero

Todo Noticias

  • TN 360 (YouTube Channel)
  • Argentina
  • Project start date: 2015
  • Distribution of cardboards
  • Investment: GoPro cameras and editing software
  • Responsible: Juan Ignacio Sixto, chief of the 360/Virtual Reality team from channel Todo Noticias

TV Globo

  • Brazil
  • Project start date: 2015
  • Eduardo Acquarone, editor of special projects of the news division of TV Globo

(*) This story is part of a special project by the Knight Center that is made possible thanks to generous support from Open Society Foundations. The "Innovative Journalism" series covers digital news media trends and best practices in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Other stories in the series include:

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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