Many news organisations have been experimenting with virtual reality (VR) and 360-degree video over the past year, and projects such as the Guardian's 6x9 VR experience and Within's Clouds Over Sidra have shown that these new formats have become an effective way of storytelling.
But shooting and editing projects on this scale can be expensive, and news organisations looking to produce such material need to have the resources, time and new skill sets to do so.
So how can news organisations produce 360-degree video in a more cost-effective way, and what factors should they take into consideration before they get started?
Duncan Hooper, editor of digital platforms at Euronews, explained that over the past few months, the international news organisation has been experimenting with this technology using just the resources, video skills and staff already available to them.
"We wanted to do it within our existing structures, and if we were going to fail, fail cheaply," he said.
"We are not the New York Times – we aren't going to send a million [Google] cardboard readers to our audience, build a special app to show our work, or recruit a team on a huge budget to film a beautiful project. We want to make two videos a week, and do them inside of our current workflow."
Euronews, which has over 300 journalists working 24/7 in 13 languages on air, online and on social media, wanted to produce video that would work across its global audience.
Since June, the organisation has shot videos in 13 different countries, from Uzbekistan to Serbia, so far publishing a total of 34 360-degree videos, with the majority produced in the last two months, on feature pieces and news stories.
For example, Euronews have shot 360-degree video from a hot air balloon over the French Alps, action from the red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival, and interviews with inhabitants from the city of Stanytsia Luhanska in eastern Ukraine to show life on the frontline in Ukraine.
Working with existing resources
Six months ago, Euronews brought a VR expert into the newsroom to lead training sessions for the staff, where approximately 12 journalists, editors, graphic artists and producers came to learn some of the skills needed to produce 360-degree video.
The company has one 360-degree video specialist, who works full time with the format and helps others in the newsroom when they encounter difficulties with their own projects.
"We wanted our journalists to take 360-degree cameras on planned shoots just to try and experiment without any pressure, see how it worked and to make some mistakes – that's all part of the learning process," he said.
"We use the Samsung Gear 360 camera, which fits in your pocket. We didn't want them to take a big GoPro rig and give them so much extra work. The quality suffers slightly but we are a news channel and we need to be able to get things out within a day at least."
Euronews has cameras around the world, from Washington to Peru, to capture news in 360 degrees as it happens.
Learning lessons from the start
The team has faced a number of challenges along the way. "We had to start right from scratch, in every domain," Hooper said.
"Resources were tight – especially as this was an experimental project. We had to work with new equipment we'd never used before, use different filming methods with no rules, and our audience didn't even know what a 360-degree video was when we started.
"It is a completely different way of storytelling."
We've developed a much better understanding of storytelling as we've gone alongDuncan Hooper, Euronews
Know exactly what you want to produce, and how the audience should be engaging with the content
The team at Euronews established four video formats as they went along: No Comment, where the audience simply watch content without a running commentary or a presenter; Explainer, where the camera is set up with a voiceover description of what is being shown; Debate, where multiple journalists discuss an issue around the 360-degree camera; and Guided Story, where they tell a story with different scenes, and often include a presenter to show the audience where to look.
"You really need to know before you start, what format you are aiming at – you can't start in one and then move into another," explained Hooper.
"You have to stick to one of these formats at a time. We had journalists that were in the shot that didn't talk, just holding the camera on a selfie stick.
"It made for a weird experience. We learned that if the journalist is on screen, they need to interact, otherwise just shoot it on a tripod, get out of the scene and add a commentary later if you wish."
Guide the viewer at all times
After publishing their 360-degree videos on Facebook, YouTube, and even the Euronews website using a platform called OmniVirt, comments from viewers helped to highlight some of the mistakes that were being made.
"We noticed audiences sometimes don't know where to look at and get lost in the videos. They are thrown into a scene where there's all the action happening around them, and they are worried about missing something.
"It isn't just about the pictures – they often need to be guided, whether that is by a journalist in the film or a voiceover, or they will be confused and leave the experience."
There are many technical issues to consider when shooting in 360 degrees
Hooper explained that "360 doesn't always mean 360", noting that people look around in an arc of 180 degrees, so journalists need to bear in mind where they want the audience to look, and then position the camera appropriately.
It is a learning process, so don't take on any big projects before you have experimented with it for yourselfDuncan Hooper, Euronews
"The video is better quality at the front of the fish-eye lenses, so point the lens towards the action, and then when you edit it, start the video where you want them to see first so they know what they need to look at," he said.
"We've developed a much better understanding of storytelling as we've gone along – you still need a beginning, a middle and an end to your story."
Journalists at Euronews experienced many technical issues along the way, which they can now avoid as they have become more familiar with the equipment.
Some elements to keep in mind before getting started are the amount of battery power you have, the fact that the camera isn't great at capturing sound, and the picture can be easily distorted with bright lights.
The journalism is still the most important thing
Hooper noted that, just like with any social video, audiences watching 360-degree footage need to have their attention captured in the first three to five seconds, and they need to feel like the video has a conclusion when they reach its end.
"In this respect, it is just like traditional storytelling, but the rules apply to 360," he said.
"Remember the way you cut is important – if you cut in one place and arrive in another it is a really weird experience for the user, so you need to think about your anchor point and cut with a focus to stop them getting disorientated.
"Publishers should think about why they are wanting to try out immersive journalism. Sometimes it works, and sometimes 360-degree video doesn't add anything to the story.
"It is a learning process, so don't take on any big projects before you have experimented with it for yourself. And most of all, think about your audiences first and don't discard traditional journalistic thinking."
Free daily newsletter
- BBC's VR Hub launches its first news documentary to explore the water politics of the river Nile
- New talk and demo at newsrewired: A news game in virtual reality
- A virtual reality news game teaches the public about the Coventry Blitz
- App for journalists: VeeR Editor, for editing 360-degree video on your smartphone
- Through VR project The Party, the Guardian is giving viewers an insight into living with autism