If you’ve been scrolling through The New York Times online in the last few days, you may have come across an in-stream animated commercial for GE that lets you move around the window as it plays.
It’s a first for the Times, which rightfully wins accolades for its virtual-reality editorial content. Last month, it won a Cannes Lions Award for its refugee VR film “The Displaced.” To watch that hard-hitting piece, a viewer had to have a VR headset, and the paper gave away a million Google Cardboard VR sets last year to readers so they could watch it.
But the GE commercial works without any headset, and perhaps most importantly, works without leaving the main New York Times page and without downloading its separate NYT VR app. The Times got the technology to do that from OmniVirt, a new Silicon Valley tech company that is making that ad its calling card for now.
“NYT VR has been downloaded, like 50,000 times. The New York Times Website app has been downloaded a million times,” said Michael Rucker, the COO and co-founder along with Brad Phaisan, who is the CEO. “That’s a lot better for an advertiser.”
Like so many other tech advances, the stumbling point for a good idea is bad distribution. Virtual reality video is viewable without equipment. YouTube has hundreds of 360 degree videos. But you can’t see it without looking for it. And headsets usually help a lot.
Perhaps even more importantly as a selling point for OmniVirt, the GE ad works the same on mobile devices, and that, of course, is where the action is for most publishers now. I saw the ad on my phone as it popped up within a story about the controversy started when Donald Trump suggested that Russia hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.
OmniVirt has nothing to do with the ad content, which was produced by the paper's T Brand Studio for GE, and is filled with colorful birds, pretty butterflies and schools of fish. It advances the idea that today’s “digital industrial tech” gets a lot of its inspiration from nature. Move around the screen by turning and twisting your phone and the ad gets a lot more interesting.
While that story unfolds, if you click on it, probably some readers forget all about the Donald Trump story it interrupts. That also is what some conscientious publishers ultimately may not like about immersive 360-degree video ads. They’re too interesting.
“Readers may stop to look at it for the novelty of it,” Rucker says. “But they can also really engage with it and almost craft their own version of it. The full immersion has higher impact.”
The Times ad is the first with a major publisher, but a 360-degree ad will show up on AOL soon.
Rucker was a longtime product manager and a member of the strategy group at Google where he focused and the “ads you may--or may not--have seen” on YouTube. Phaisan was a software engineer for YouTube who left to start up AdsOptimal, an ad tech firm that OmniVirt is branching from.
The Times gig was a stroke of good luck, Rucker said, because the paper initiated the contact, and given its status as a VR pioneer, that’s a great platform.
“Now we’ve heard from virtually every premium publisher in this country and overseas,” he adds, including the BBC It’s a fair bet you will be seeing OmniVirt around. And around.