Free Google Cardboard virtual-reality viewers will be distributed to more than 1 million New York Times print newspaper home delivery subscribers from Nov. 7 to 8 as part of a special virtual-reality content and advertising promotion the paper is conducting with Google.
The promotion will let home subscribers use their Google Cardboard viewers to dive deeper into New York Times video content by seeing it using virtual-reality tools for a more immersive visual effect, the newspaper said in an Oct. 20 announcement.
The paper has launched the NYT VR project in collaboration with Google to provide and present the special content through a NYT VR app for iPhones and Android phones, according to the company.
The free Google Cardboard viewers will be distributed to subscribers with their newspapers. Online subscribers to the newspaper's Times Insider offerings and selected Times digital subscribers will be offered promotional codes via email that they can redeem for free viewers that will be sent to them, the company said.
Google Cardboard wraps around a compatible smartphone and allows a user to see and experience virtual-reality content right on their phone.
The first content under the new NYT VR program is a film produced by the paper's Magazine staff, called "The Displaced," which "captures the resilience of three extraordinary children uprooted by war, all through the lens of virtual reality. The New York Times Magazine, in collaboration with Chris Milk and his virtual reality company Vrse, created the film to enable readers to experience what it means to be a child caught in the global refugee crisis," the newspaper said. The film examines the daily lives of three children from South Sudan, eastern Ukraine and Syria.
"Our readers look to The Times for innovative and powerful storytelling and this is The Times at its best," Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, said in a statement. "Our Magazine team has created the first critical, serious piece of journalism using virtual reality, to shed light on one of the most dire humanitarian crises of our lifetime."
The NYT VR app was developed in collaboration with IM360, a virtual-reality studio, the newspaper said. It supports virtual-reality playback for Google Cardboard as well as playback of 360-degree video for mobile touch-screen navigation. The app will be free and available for download in the Google Play and iOS App Stores beginning Nov. 5.
Times readers who don't have access to Google Cardboard viewers also can download the NYT VR app for an enhanced video experience. Other content also is scheduled for release by the paper, including a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Magazine's "Walking New York" cover image and more.
"The power of VR is that it gives the viewer a unique sense of empathic connection to people and events," Jake Silverstein, editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine, said in a statement. "In the context of international reporting and conflict reporting, where our readers rely on us to bring them news and stories from remote and inaccessible places, this has huge potential. Through this immersive video experience, we can put our readers at the center of the most important story of our time."
Two advertising sponsors of the Times-Google effort, GE and Mini, will also make VR films available to participating Times readers. GE will offer a film that "explores a story of how design in industry and technology takes cues from nature," while Mini will offer two short films, "Backwater" and "Real Memories," that will look at how new technologies like virtual reality change the way stories are told and how content is viewed, the paper said.
Google Cardboard is a handheld virtual-reality viewer that can be easily built to mate with a user's smartphone so the user can view various Google services such as Google Earth, YouTube and more for amazing VR experiences. A Cardboard user can build the device using basic plans from Google and then download an Android app that is used with the viewer. The viewer is made by cutting and folding cardboard until it is shaped into a boxy-looking VR attachment. Several other parts also are needed, including some Velcro, a rubber band, two small magnets and some aftermarket lenses, which can be purchased online.
The first Cardboard device was dreamed up and built by Googlers David Coz and Damien Henry in 2014 at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris as part of a 20 percent project, where Google employees can use up to 20 percent of their work time to engage in projects that are interesting to them, according to an earlier eWEEK report.
By mid-2014, several companies even began selling pre-cut and packaged kits of parts so anyone could easily assemble a Cardboard viewer for their smartphone.