In early 2016, Euronews set out to challenge some assumptions about what 360-degree video could and should be. Thomas Seymat filmed our first 360-degree video in January that year, and over the next 12 months we produced hundreds of videos, in 13 different languages — putting us among the most prolific producers in the news media world.
Here are some of the claims about creating video that we’ve managed to disprove.
1. It requires special technical skill.
Not one of the dozens of team members who have worked on our project had ever worked in the medium a year prior. Most of our videos were filmed by TV reporters, who used our checklist as a guideline. With the right camera equipment, the technical side of filming is simple to grasp.
2. It is expensive.
We generally film 360 video single-handedly, or using the same crew that is already filming for our TV channels. We use lightweight consumer cameras, which are affordable and typically cost a couple of hundred euros. The only other piece of equipment that we use regularly is a tripod. We have often been able to partner with organisations to arrange travel to the more remote locations where we have filmed.
Our biggest investment is in time: learning, failing, and improving. Ingesting and uploading the videos to the correct platforms still does take a lot of unskilled work, but as software develops, that aspect will continue to improve. As with any shoot, planning is important, along with the ability to adapt. But with the camera acting as an all-seeing witness to the events, it does not need to be focused on any particular piece of action.
For urgent stories, we aim to be able to train a journalist to film a 360 video by themselves in less than 15 minutes.
3. It is less natural.
The camera is actually unobtrusive — especially as we don’t use lighting rigs or a crew. Because there is no cameraman, the subjects are often less self-conscious.
Our best productions have all been achieved with a static camera because moving does require customised stabilisation equipment; but the stationary camera still allows for scope to move around, without the sensation that a camera is following you.
One challenge that is more obvious with 360 filming is the difficulty of excluding unwanted elements. This transparency is part of its appeal; however, when bystanders ask not to be filmed, there is little that can be done aside from turning off the camera.
4. It only works in spectacular settings.
Undoubtedly 360 cameras do work extremely well for highly visual subjects, like a flight in a fighter aircraft or on the top of a mountain. But the media is not only suitable for this type of production. In addition to delivering a “wow factor,” 360 video can also offer context and transparency in most any setting.
The environment where an event takes place can be important: is it on a busy street with people watching, outside in the cold weather, or in a state-of-the art studio? In our series that explored voters’ views on the French election, we exploited this aspect by taking the camera into the homes of our subjects — allowing viewers to form their own impressions about the circumstances in which they lived by exploring the room around them.
5. It doesn’t scale.
Euronews 360 set out to show that the same workflow that produced our television news content could also produce 360 video at the same rhythm. We have been able to film, edit, add voice commentary, publish, and distribute these videos using the same processes, and in a similar timeframe to our traditional news content.
The most significant obstacle is the time taken to stitch the rushes together — although to a large degree, this can be automated so the additional time does not equate to additional costs.
6. The potential audience is small.
While our video content can be consumed on high to low-end headsets, we know that most people don’t watch it using headsets. Perhaps in the future, as 360-degree video becomes more common, they will. However, we view this in the present terms, not as an experiment that could yield something useful in the future.
Our video production is something that serves a purpose today; because even when consumed on flat screens via YouTube, Facebook, or the Euronews video player, a 360 video can still deliver an enhanced experience, and empower viewers to control how they view the story.
7. It removes the need for presenters.
When we first started the 360 project, we thought the format would work best with our No Comment brand. These videos use only natural sound to present the power of the image itself and let the viewer make up his or her own mind, without the influence of a journalist’s presence.
But what we actually found, based on anecdotal feedback combined with heatmaps, was that a presenter serves as a valuable anchor for audiences and could encourage them to explore a video without the fear of missing something important.
The presenter can bring continuity between different scenes, helping to remove the effect of disorientation that sometimes occurred. And of course, for our particular case, it is an opportunity for us as a television channel to leverage our assets and advantage against competitors — who probably don’t have journalists so comfortable on camera.
One challenge, however, is that it does make multi-lingual productions more challenging, because dubbing is always slightly awkward. Even so, we still choose more often than not to use a journalist on camera — evidence that we are genuinely convinced by this approach.