February 18, 2021
Image: USA Today
Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week's edition is about USA Today's efforts to bring AR to local journalism, and Amazon's embrace of live and linear programming for Fire TV devices.
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On Thursday, Gannett's USA Today Network is launching one of its most ambitious efforts in immersive storytelling to date: 13 local newspapers, including Florida Today, Naples Daily News and the Austin American-Statesman, will allow their readers to explore the Mars Perseverance rover in augmented reality within their respective mobile apps. In addition, the experience is also available via the USA Today app.
The release of the app coincides with NASA's latest Mars mission, with Perseverance scheduled to land on the red planet Thursday. Narrated by Florida Today's space reporter Emre Kelly and produced in partnership with the Smithsonian Channel, the AR experience lets readers learn about the critical moment of the touch-down — or as Kelly calls it in the experience, the "seven minutes of terror."
"This mission is to detect life on Mars, which is astounding," said Gannett and USA Today emerging technology director Ray Soto. But for Soto, the launch of the AR experience also lays the groundwork for another ambitious undertaking: USA Today Network wants to get its local news organizations to embrace AR, and ultimately produce local immersive content for their respective audiences.
Syndicating AR content to local newspapers is just a first step for USA Today. The next will be to help local journalists produce AR experiences. "Those newsrooms, they can start producing their own AR content," Soto said.
One powerful tool for local journalists could be the new iPhone Pro, which packs lidar sensors that can simplify the 3D scanning of objects and scenes. Soto's team plans to use its Unity-based framework to help turn those 3D objects into complete experiences that could be distributed through local news apps. "There is an opportunity to create hyperlocal AR content," he said.
"Still not convinced this is the best path forward for Roku. Original content differentiates the platform but will take away value from being an independent gatekeeper. They'll need to get [the Roku Channel] on all other platforms now, which will complicate their licensing negotiations." —Evolution Media Capital analyst Tavish Zausner-Mannes, responding to our report that Roku is looking to produce its own TV shows and movies.
"It could work — but definitely changes the model." —Hedgeye Risk Management partner Andrew Freedman vowed to stay open-minded about Roku's content plans, but also admitted that was "not a huge fan of the idea."
You have to find the right solution that meets both your internal and external collaboration needs.
That's why competitive businesses today are turning to Slack, the channel-based messaging platform, to close communication gaps with partners and customers in the age of remote work.
Live and linear video feeds have become a key part of Amazon's Fire TV platform, and the company plans to add further improvements to the experience in the coming months. Amazon Fire TV VP and GM Sandeep Gupta told me recently that his team plans to test different versions of the live TV guide this year, while also giving consumers more ways to personalize their live TV experience.
Amazon's love for live is not entirely surprising: Pluto, Samsung and others have seen a lot of engagement for live and linear programming, with consumers effectively replacing basic cable with free online channels for leanback viewing. Just this week, linear video feed integration specialist Wurl announced that it saw its number of monthly active viewers increase by 216% in 2020.
Linear programming is also great for advertising, with Wurl reporting ad impressions across its network of linear channels growing by 357% in Q4, compared to the same quarter in 2019. That's why everyone from Roku to Redbox is adding these types of channels to their services.
Amazon's integration is a bit different in that it aggregates live programming from the apps and services that consumers have installed in their Fire TV devices. It's an approach that Google first pioneered when it introduced Android TV all the way back in 2014. However, Google may have been ahead of its time, as its "Live Channels" framework did not receive widespread support from partners; the company has yet to integrate it into its latest Chromecast streaming device.
For more on Amazon's Fire TV redesign, check out my story.
Remember how Girl Scouts across California started to put up tables in front of dispensaries as soon as weed became legal in the Golden State? Business acumen like that can't be stopped by anything, not even a pandemic. This year, the Girl Scouts are resorting to virtual cookie booths, and in my neighborhood, some of them have already put up signs with QR codes to simplify online ordering. One especially ambitious seller from Los Angeles even produced a VR video to sell cookies virtually. "But don't worry, you get cookies in real life," she is helpfully telling her audience. Now, someone please invent teleportation for Samoas!
Thanks for reading — see you next week!