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NY Times? VR play is publisher's most successful app launch

The New York Times? new virtual reality application had more downloads in its first days of availability than any other app from the publisher at launch, pointing to the technology's significant potential for publishers. 

The publication?s recent launch of its new film the Displaced was shot as a virtual reality experience and available only through a mobile app. The innovation prompted more downloads within the first weekend compared to any other NY Times app. 

"With the stunning success of the NYT VR app and its overwhelmingly positive response on social media, we have proven that virtual reality is one of the most engaging forms of storytelling," said Andy Wright, senior vice president of advertising and publisher at The New York Times Magazine. "While The Times has led the way in advanced forms of storytelling for many years, virtual reality takes a few massive leaps ahead. 

"Given the average time spent within the NYT VR app is close to 15 minutes, an unheard of metric for digital media, it is clear that this experience resonated with viewers," he said. 

Virtual Reality journalism
GE and vehicle manufacturer Mini transported New York Times subscribers into fully immersive brand experiences as sponsors of the publication?s first virtual reality film, which was released on November 5 (see more).

The average time spent engaging within the app is 14.7 minutes, with 92 percent of videos viewed in Cardboard mode. The success of the innovation prompted the publication to release another virtual reality film coming out in December on the same mobile app with a similar format. 
The film brings the overseas refugee crisis to light in an impactful way by putting the viewer in a virtual reality setting. NY Times subscribers received a Google Cardboard Viewer along with their usual paper and curiously tested out the experience, taking to social media outlets to express their thoughts. 

More than 700 Instagram users took to the platform to share images of their experience testing out the Cardboard Viewer and experience the film, using the hashtag #NYTVR. Numerous users on Twitter commented on the journalism aspect of the innovation and spurred discussion of the refugee crisis, which is something for which the NY Times was hoping.

The hashtag #NYTVR started to trend on Twitter on Saturday in New York and D.C, Philadelphia and California on Sunday of the weekend of its launch. 


Viewers can use the app with or without the cardboard viewer

NYTVR app users can engage with the film with or without the Cardboard viewers and when opening the app, users can choose between Cardboard mode or smartphone mode. The film is split between various videos which can be selected for download. 

Publication innovations
The New York Times is one of the publishers that quickly adopted Google?s new Accelerated Mobile Pages Project in the early stages as the publication attempted to gain more control over readers' experiences following a period of significant upheaval caused by growing smartphone use (see more). 

"With our launch last weekend, we have created a real appetite for virtual reality among our influential audience who hope to continue to experience this form of storytelling," Mr. Wright said. "We will satiate that appetite with additional high quality virtual reality films through early 2016 and beyond. 

"T Brand Studio, the Times's content studio, is currently working on its second virtual reality film for a brand partner after successfully producing GE's VR film, How Nature Is Inspiring Our Industrial Future," he said. "We have seen a strong demand from clients who are currently interested in producing virtual reality reality films and are looking to T Brand Studio to help them best enter the space."

Final take
Brielle Jaekel is editorial assistant at Mobile Marketer