CNBC: Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue will have virtual reality feature
Original Source: CNBC
SAN FRANCISCO — In the mid 1800s, showman P.T. Barnum decided to drum up crowds for his circus by blanketing cities with advertisements and posters. Fast forward 150 years, and media outlets are starting to do the same with virtual reality.
Sports Illustrated announced Monday that its annual swimsuit edition — which claims a readership of 60 million and has raked in $1 billion in revenue over its 52-year history — is bringing readers to its photo shoots courtesy of virtual reality.
The Time Inc. magazine’s new Swimsuit app includes 11 VR clips shot by Venice Beach, Calif-based content creators Wevr while on location last November at the Dominican Republic beach resort of Casa de Campo. The women featured in the Sports Illustrated VR videos are former cover models Hannah Davis, Irina Shayk and Nina Agdal.
(For the first time, the magazine itself will feature three separate covers, featuring Hailey Clauson, plus-size model Ashley Graham and a body-painted Ronda Rousey, as well as spotlight 56-year-old Nicola Griffin, the magazine’s editors announced Saturday.)
Consumers have the option of viewing the VR videos either on their smartphones (with or without goggles such as Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR) or on coming high-end units such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Some videos are free while other clips will be accessible to subscribers through special codes.
“VR is an emerging tech and we want to get out ahead in this space,” says Chris Hercik, creative director at Sports Illustrated, noting that the magazine aims to roll out more VR content this year. “(SI) is all about access. Sure it’s nice to be courtside at a game (in VR), but we can take you to a practice or inside a locker room.”
Virtual reality, which uses blackout goggles to project a 360-degree view of the world, is expected to boom this year. While the new hardware looks promising, there is still much experimentation to be done on what sort of content will appeal to consumers and how long they’ll be willing to engage with it during each occluded sitting. While there is no issue binge-watching videos for hours, top VR researchers recommend no more than 15 minute sessions in the often disorienting virtual world.
Such caveats aside, Hercik says Time Inc. is determined to use VR across its dozens of properties, which include People, Fortune and InStyle. He allows that VR adoption rates remain to be seen given both the tech’s novelty and its relative lack of content but is convinced VR will prove invaluable in engaging an increasingly fickle audience.
InStyle tried its hand at VR content last fall, bringing readers to a photo shoot with Drew Barrymore. Next week, the lifestyle title will unveil a new VR effort that brings viewers behind the scenes of a recent Golden Globes afterparty.
“As a company, we’re known for storytelling, and VR is the next frontier in storytelling,” says Angela Matusik, executive editor of InStyle Digital.
Media giants are racing to leverage virtual reality content in their efforts to both stay with the times and engender consumer loyalty.
“As the installed base for this new tech grows, we anticipate over $10 billion combined AR/VR video revenues by 2020,” says Tim Merel, founder of industry advisors Digi-Capital and app-maker Eyetouch Reality.
“For editorial content, the market is being tested by traditional media like The New York Times, CNN and USA TODAY, as well as cutting edge creators like Nonny de la Peña’s Emblematic Group,” he says. “From a scale perspective, the much larger installed base of competing media, which is mobile, web, TV, print, should outweigh AR/VR editorial for a while yet. But the growth rates for AR/VR editorial content could be significantly higher than their traditional counterparts.”
Gannett, which owns USA TODAY and a network of nearly 100 publications across the country, has brought readers to the streets of Havana and inside a Blue Angels jet via VR. “We started 18 months ago with an award-winning (Des Moines Register) series called Harvest of Change, which took viewers inside the life of a family farm in Iowa,” says USA TODAY editor in chief David Callaway.
The New York Times also has been a VR video leader, producing immersive reports about Europe’s refugees and Paris after the terrorist attacks. Last year, the company distributed a million cardboard smartphone goggles to print subscribers. “This year, we’re putting more money into a program of films of our own, and are curating VR content in partnership with (film fest organizers) Sundance,” says New York Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy.
The United Nations has even taken advantage of VR’s ability to generate empathy. Its 2015 short film Clouds Over Sidra, about a young Syrian refugee’s life in a camp, has won a number of awards and put a spotlight on the transportive nature of VR content.
Standing in obvious contrast to Sidra is Sports Illustrated’s comparatively voyeuristic effort, which is bound to rile its persistent critics even further.
“Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue should be renamed the Sexploitation Issue,” Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, said in a statement last week just before the issue’s cover model was revealed. “This magazine has a long history of sexually objectifying women for sport, and any store that displays SI’s February issue is sending the message that it agrees women’s bodies are for public consumption.”
SI’s Hercik says simply that the VR project was “just meant to address the question I always get, which is, ‘What’s it like to be on a swimsuit shoot?'”
Wevr co-founder Anthony Batt says his mission was to be as unobtrusive as possible during the SI shoot. Using a variety of cameras, the Wevr crew sought to capture scenes from multiple perspectives. In some, the viewer take the point of view of the photographer. In others, you’re a fly on the wall able to see the entire crew from the vantage point of the model.
“Instead of looking at a page, you’re actually standing in the page,” Batt says. “VR is transformational for the (magazine) medium.”