Virtual reality in Latin America: introducing the audience to a new way of seeing the world

This is the first part of an article on 360 video and virtual reality initiatives by Latin American media and is also part of a series on Innovative Journalism in Latin America and the Caribbean.(*)

In 1895, after several failed attempts brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière successfully used the cinematograph to show images in motion on a screen for the first time in public.

The audience present for the screening reacted with disbelief at seeing sequences like the famous arrival of a train to a station. People were fascinated to see these scenes as if they were “right there.”

Once the audience became accustomed to this new experience and took for granted the existence of this “reality” reflected on screen, the novelty was overcome by the need to tell more complex and interesting stories, which – with the passage of years – gave rise to films as we know them today.

We are now living in a similar situation, 121 years after the cinematograph, with the introduction of 360 video. While media such as The New York Times or the BBC are on the forefront in the use of so-called “immersive journalism,” the genre is still at an experimental level in Latin America.

Three important media organizations in the region that have ventured into the use of 360 video shared their experiences about their projects in this field with the Knight Center: Diario Financiero of Chile; Todo Noticias in Argentina; and TV Globo of Brazil.

“Our first strategy was to try to generate experiences in 360 degrees that would allow us to teach the audience that this tool exists, that this technology exists, and that they can enjoy and consume it in a certain way. But for this we need to ‘evangelize to them,’ and that is why we began to work with ‘experiential’ content. Instead of going so far and getting involved in the deep, documentary news story, we had to teach people ‘how the train got to the station,’” Juan Ignacio Sixto, head of the 360/Virtual Reality team from Argentina’s Todo Noticias, told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. He is part of one of the first Latin American media outlets to venture into this technology.

360 video and virtual reality are based on the same concept: the images, which are recorded in an omnidirectional way, allow the user to contemplate a scene as if she was in the center of it. Thus, she can see what happens in all directions: forward, backward, right, left, up or down.

360 videos can be viewed like any other video from a mobile device or PC. The difference from a normal video is that the user can move through the video - with the cursor or by simply moving the mobile device - to view the scene in all possible directions.

These same immersive videos, also called spherical ones, can be seen by using viewers or special helmets that take over the user’s entire view. Options range from simple cardboards from Google to more sophisticated equipment like Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR, among others. When we talk about virtual reality, we are talking about using these devices to watch spherical videos. The experience of virtual reality is much more immersive, since the user is totally focused on images and sound, and has to move to change the angle of vision.

For Todos Noticias, the foray into 360 videos took place in 2015, amidst journalistic coverage of presidential elections. Sixto joined a film director and an expert in editing and animation to make the first attempts with immersive video.

“The first work we published was the behind-the-scenes filming of one of our newsreels. We did the first works in-house, in the same TV studios, to be able to have total control of light, of audio and of the disposition of the people, before leaving for hostile terrain,” Sixto said. “From that moment on, the strategy was to generate audience, generate knowledge to be able to explore development and the way of telling a story in this manner and to use social platforms, which is where people, today more than ever, find this content and navigate it in a more natural way.”

His first 360 video was followed by interviews with presidential candidates in the Todo Noticias studio, where the user could see both the scene that appeared on television, and could turn to see the cameras and technical team.

To show the audience the advantages of the new tool – or to “evangelize to them,” as Sixto calls it – the team at Todo Noticias decided to give out cardboards, which are masks made of cardboard with an internal lens system that are developed by companies like Google. Viewers can mount their smartphones on the cardboard for a better immersive experience.

“We wanted to give people the tools they need to best take advantage of the 360 experience, because immersion, which is what we think is the most worthwhile part of this tool, cannot be fully achieved unless you use a cardboard or a helmet,” Sixto said.

Chilean newspaper Diario Financiero carried out a similar project: for the 20th anniversary of its sister publication Revista Capital, subscribers received a cardboard as a gift and the magazine’s website launched a series of 360 videos that showed the benefits of this technology.

In addition to celebrating the anniversary, the objective of this strategy was to accustom its audience to the experience of 360 videos and then to release a weekly clip on DF TV, the publication’s video platform.

“Not only did we make our videos in 360, we also compiled videos on the internet and put them on a site so that our audience could use the cardboard and experience the future a bit. It was a very innovative subject,” said Federico Willoughby, manager of digital media for Diario Financiero, to the Knight Center.

“Although 360 video is in its experimental stage, Diario Financiero and Todo Noticias agree that the investment in this technology was not very high compared to the potential offered by the new tool. In addition, both companies relied on the technical and human capital they already had to boost the production of immersive videos.

“We realized that having a 360 camera was not very expensive and that this technology that seemed far away was there. We invested less than a thousand dollars,” Willoughby said.

In the case of Todo Noticias, its main investment was in GoPro cameras and in the software necessary to stitch images captured by each camera. When working with several synchronized cameras, a 360-degree canvas is armed with videos from each camera and later rendered after passing through a linear editing and post-production process and then a final rendering.

“That’s why a 3-minute video can take three or four days just in post-production. However, at Todo Noticias we have support from channel videographers, and sound personnel. We are in a place where we can raise our hands and ask for help,” Juan Ignacio Sixto added.

The team led by Sixto decided to go further in their experiments and to incorporate metadata and computer generated images (CGI) in its 360 videos. The team added graphics and boxes with other videos within the panoramic view of their videos.

“We made two historical reconstructions of Argentine history in collaboration with people from all over the channel, writers, off-screen narrators, and so on. These videos also required post-production work and animation within the 360 view, which is something more advanced that requires many hours and a lot of computer capacity to render all that,” Sixto shared. “We took a bigger leap in animation, directly with CGI, working with a team external to the channel.”

Like Todo Noticias, other media have also opted to collaborate with external companies to develop 360 videos, as in the case of Brazil's TV Globo, which began experimenting with these types of clips in 2015.

The first 360 videos made by TV Globo were of the famous Brazilian Carnaval, an event in which the visual advantages of the panoramic tool could be exploited. However, two years later, the team resorted to 360 again for a hard-news event: the tragedy caused by a toxic waste spill in the Rio Doce, which resulted in the destruction of several towns in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

For this coverage, Globo counted on the work of Charles Boggiss, director of the Brazilian start-up UView360, which specializes in the production of 360-degree video and virtual reality and has collaborated with international networks such as CCTV in China.

“A big area was affected in that disaster, so we thought 360 videos were a good way for people to understand the magnitude of what happened there. I think it was an interesting use of technology,” Eduardo Acquarone, editor of special projects in the news division of TV Globo, told the Knight Center. Our reporter operated the camera himself. Normally television reporters do not operate cameras, but the 360 cameras are easy devices for recording. So this creates different experiences for the whole team.”

The second part of this article will analyze the distribution platforms, audience and business model of 360 video and virtual reality projects in Latin American media.



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.