November 5, 2015 Last Updated 12:11 pm

NYT debuts new VR mobile app delivering 360-degree video content

The new iPhone and Android app was created through a partnership with IM360; first of the three videos currently available is tied to series on children displaced by war, published online today in The New York Times Magazine

The New York Times has not been what I have called a “serial launcher” of digital apps – and I have criticized them over this a number of times. Every time the newspaper has launched a new app one of the first things I say is that it is good to see them experiment.
Today the NYT digital team did something quite out of character, it launched a virtual reality app that likely has very little profit potential, but will be very positively received by users, nonetheless.

NYT-VR-Cardboard2NYT VR is available for the iPhone and for Android devices through the Google Play store.

“Today, The New York Times takes a step into virtual reality,” the newspaper said. “NYT VR is a mobile app that can be used — along with your headphones and optionally a cardboard viewing device — to simulate richly immersive scenes from across the globe.”

The app can be used on its own or with one of those Google Cardboard VR viewers. But the app can be used without the viewer, as well. The paper says the reader should use headphones, but that is not a requirement, either. I think they are trying hard not to scare people away from the app if they do not have a Google Cardboard VR viewer.

(Through a partnership with Google, the paper, though, will be sending a free viewer to all domestic Sunday subscribers to The New York Times. That’s a pretty smart promotion for the app.)

But it is hardly a business model, of course. That part is supplied by the sponsorships found inside the app. I saw one for GE and another for the MINI Cooper.

NYTvr-iPhone6-210Mixed in between the three VR videos from the Times are the two VR videos from the sponsors, making this app a bit of a native advertising product.

How much of this new app was driven by the NYT and how much it might have been driven by the paper’s partners is probably a good question. Hidden way down at the bottom of the information page is the note that NYT VR was created in partnership with IM360.

IM360 is a joint venture between Immersive Media and Digital Domain, who have created the IM360 VR Platform which enables media companies and brands to bring their VR content to the public. The company is making “white label” apps for its partners, which also include Gannett and SyFy, a division of NBCUniversal.

“Immersive content is rocketing from science fiction to the mainstream, and IM360 is helping bring this impactful technology to millions of viewers around the world, many of whom will experience in-home virtual reality for the very first time this year,” said Myles McGovern, President of IM360 in a press release the company issued today.

Gannett’s app, called VRstories, has been around since April of this year, but today was the first time I had heard of it. No one has apparently heard of it either as there are no user reviews for the app inside the App Store. That goes to show you how important marketing and promotion is to the success of a venture like this.

Back to the virtual reality videos inside the new app…

There are three videos from the NYT currently in the app (in addition to the two sponsored videos).

The first video is an element of a series published today at The New York Times Magazine, The Displaced, which concerns children displaced by war. The video is 11 minutes in length and is a massive file, 329 MB in size.


While the app is designed for portrait use, tapping the play button immediately changes to orientation to landscape. A very smart feature allows the reader to delete the video after viewing to save storage space (as everyone knows Apple doesn’t get that we need more storage on our devices and continues to offer the base model of the iPhone with only 16 GB of storage).

The video is impressive, but the Times didn’t start out its VR app with some lightweight story, this is serious journalism and if the app leads readers to the online content it will be an excellent use of a mobile app.

You can read the series by starting here: The Displaced: Introduction.

The last of the three NYT videos is on a lighter subject: Walking New York, about the making of the cover of the issue of The New York Times Magazine with the artist JR.

  • Billy Joe Cain 12 months ago

    Many NYT users are having their first VR experiences and I work for an independent developer that makes games for new users specifically. Yes, they cost $0.99, but every penny goes to feed our families. We call them Load and Look VR because that’s all you have to do. Here’s our marketing version of that:

    “All Load and Look VR™ titles are optimized for first-time Virtual Reality users. Simply launch the Load and Look VR™ title and travel to a high-quality, stereoscopic virtual world with high-fidelity stereo audio. Users can experience the world in 360 degrees (up, down, left, right, and behind you). Each experience is kid-friendly, and introduces people to the power of Virtual Reality. No button presseor confusing menus are needed. Finally, all apps are free from Advertising and In-App Purchases as they are geared for children.”

    Thank you for writing this article and please excuse the blatant promotion!