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Will Broadcast News in VR Bring a New Wave of The CNN Effect?

Photo of Zach Fuller
by Zach Fuller

With CNN and Next VR announcing they will be broadcasting on October 13th the first ever live-streamed news event, it brings to mind the implications of the last revolutionary shift in broadcast news: that of the 24-hour news cycle.

Also pioneered by Ted Turner’s CNN, it extracted televised news from its original incarnation as a highly packaged and edited medium, with journalists often spending weeks compiling and evaluating reports on an event, and remade it into an immediate and continuous experience - the Twitter of the 1980s. The motivation behind its creation was the hope that it would provide a far more democratic perspective on news that would limit the opportunities for editing and allow the public to consume the medium with less bias. However, it also engendered what has become a popular discussion point within Political Science and Media studies known as ‘The CNN Effect’.

The CNN Effect is loosely defined as the emergence of 24-hour international news influencing three primary functions of strategy by governments and business:

Their Policies and AgendasImpeding the achievement of these desired goalsAccelerating the decision-making process

Simplified, it describes how delivering instantaneous news coverage has motivated leaders to hasten their responses to events. Time for reaction has been compressed, and for politicians and CEOs to pause for reflection now risks public perception as failing to be on top of a situation. However, and pertinently to the case of VR with several short films in virtual reality based in refugee camps, the effect has also been linked as a potential influence in the rise in charitable donations for foreign aid. An important question to ask therefore is: will the visceral intensity of VR news continue with or elaborate on this effect?

The obvious caveat is that Television was already an established technology before the introduction of 24-hour news, allowing the concept to be implemented with minimal friction. VR news at present will only be serviceable to those with headsets; still at present a consumer niche though several big bets by retailers such as Best Buy selling VR headsets at 500 store locations this winter will likely change this by 2017. However, as demonstrated by Within CEO Chris Milk’s Ted lecture, VR’s function as ‘the ultimate empathy machine’ gives experiences over information, providing a far more cognitive reaction to news.

The potential implications of this are significant when you consider how one alleged impact of the CNN effect was that increased international news TV broadcasting of natural disasters directly correlated with the rise in donations. Consequently, as the audience swells and people are able to explore regions hit by extreme weather or war in VR, it is therefore a distinct possibility that news delivered through could incite calls to further action by empowered participants such as national governments over such events.

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