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New York Times focuses on premium video content and dabbles with virtual reality

The New York Times is focussing on premium video and experimental technologies like virtual reality as key pillars of its future, as it seeks to grow new revenue streams by leveraging its global audience.

Kicking off the Digital Newfronts in New York global CEO Mark Thompson and his team told an audience of US media buyers and clients the so-called “grey lady” was preparing to move to “the next frontier of visual storytelling”.

Thompson

Thompson

Speaking to Mumbrella after the event Thompson described how important he felt it was for the Times to capitalise on consumer interest in video and leverage this on a global scale.

“We have low single figure million print readers and we have 85m-90m digital readers, over half of which are consuming on mobile and those digital users are increasingly expending video,” Thompson said.

“I accept that not everyone is watching video, but we believe that video is more and more going to become part of the experience of news and of features journalism. We have to get ahead on that – and this is what we are doing.”

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The NYT’s Vrse app

The New York Times also made clear that it was investing significant resources in virtual reality technology, which it said had the potential to help build reader engagement while simultaneously giving brands fresh opportunities to market to consumers.

To that end the company has begun working on VR, hiring film director Chris Milk to work on an app, Vrse, which documents the work of a French artist JR,  who was featured in the latest New York Times Magazine cover (see above video).

As part of the event attendees were given the opportunity to trial the technology.

“Virtual reality is genuinely an opportunity to give people an immersive experience,” said Thompson. “You can see it when people do it.

New York Times

Attendees using VR technology at the Times presentation

“It’s not for everything, but with the right story and the right environment we can bring the experience of the written story to life.

“We want to get ahead of the broadcasters, we want to innovate, to try things and bring our very faithful, very engaged audience with us. You will hear more from us over the coming months.”

Capital New York reports that while digital advertising has been growing at the Times, video contributed less than 10 per cent of its total digital ad revenues last year, some $18.2m out of $444.7m.

Bruce Headlam, managing editor of video, told the room that with the right content this percentage was now growing quickly: “There is a reason the Times’ video has grown so quickly in the last year.

“There is a reason that our engagement and completion rates are so high – we are reinventing the New York Times. The greatest storyteller on earth in new media and for a new audience.”

Asked why the presentation had been focused on digital with no mention of legacy assets including print newspapers, Thompson argued it was strategic.

“The whole world is meeting on the website,” he said. “I come from a broadcasting background but I actually think that yes, we are an incumbent in print but in video we can be an insurgent.

“People come to us wanting to encounter characters and stories that are done with character and depth. So we are trying to do something and create videos that are worth three or five minutes of your time.”

Thompson also predicted that Australia would see more mainstream VR technology in the near future.

“Australia is a very interesting market for us. We’d love to expand our audience there,” he said.

“While I suspect things like the VR headsets will start in the United States everything we do is aimed at meeting our international audience as well.”

Nic Christensen in New York

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