Why Does Hulu Think Anyone Wants to Watch Comedy and News Programs in Virtual Reality?

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I guess I’ll just go ahead and answer the question in my own headline: because that’s what they’ve got. Hulu had to figure out some sort of content to put into their new VR app that works with the Samsung Gear virtual reality headset, and so they’ve partnered with Huffington Post’s RYOT Studios to put together some comedy shows and some news programs designed for VR.

I tried to answer my own question of “why” already–but really, I don’t know why anyone would think that news and comedy programs would work better in VR than they do without being in VR. I can barely be convinced to watch serious political news as it is (have you seen any lately? it’s terrifying), so I have no idea why Hulu thinks I want to surround myself with the news from all sides.

Also, my favorite accompaniment to TV-watching is sewing, and strapping myself into a VR headset would preclude my ability to do anything else while watching TV. Does Hulu not understand that “leave it on in the background” is still one of the best possible ways to enjoy a bit of TV? The ramp-up to convincing people to put on a VR headset is pretty high, and telling them they can watch the news just doesn’t seem like enough incentive to me.

All that skepticism aside, the news programs they’ve got planned do sound pretty impressive. RYOT Studios has already been developing 3D videos for several other news outlets in the past, and according to what they told Variety, they’ve had some success with the documentarian, immersive style of journalism that the medium allows.

RYOT co-founder Bryn Mooser will host the news VR show, which will be titled The Big Picture: News in Virtual Reality, and will focus on stories with cool visual elements and a you-had-to-be-there level of storytelling scope. As an example, here’s one of the episode descriptions: “a report about a the vast Dadaab refugee camp in Northern Kenya.”

So, sort of like how you might go to the local IMAX theatre and settle in for a short documentary with striking landscapes, so too would Hulu hope that you’d enjoy that same type of educational fare from the comfort of your couch. Since it’s very expensive to do on-location investigative journalism of this kind, I can’t help but feel somewhat hopeful about its accessibility and success, having read about their plans. Still, the pricey VR headset will be a factor that turns many people off, I’m sure.

Well, that, and the problem I already mentioned about how people like to leave TV on in the background as opposed to devoting their full attention to a show (or to anything else, in this day and age). The total immersion required for virtual reality makes it very different from the other forms of entertainment that have become popular in this decade, or any previous decade, and that (plus the cost) explains why it’s been such a steep climb for VR creators and hopeful developers.

Hulu will also be developing a comedy show in VR titled Virtually Mike and Nora, starring Nora Kirkpatrick and Mike O’Brien. Perhaps that’s intended as the dessert for viewers after they’ve watched a heavy news segment and they’ve still got their headset on.

(via Techcrunch, image via Maurizio Pesce on Flickr)

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Author
Image of Maddy Myers
Maddy Myers
Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).