Three news outlets this year snagged regional Murrow Awards for 360 video pieces, including KCRA, WTVR and KTVB.
It was just the second year for work using the relatively new technology to earn Murrow Award recognition, following KTUU’s 2017 win for Excellence in Innovation.
This year, KTVB’s winning entries for Excellence in Innovation, “360:Immerse Yourself in Idaho Life;” Excellence in Video, “360:Insane BASE Jumping;” and Feature Reporting, “360: In Love with a Lincoln” (incidentally not the only Murrow-winning goose story this year) were all captured using 360 video.
We asked Xanti Alcelay, director of photography, about the process behind KTVB’s winning 360 video strategy.
How do you decide what type of story makes for good 360 video?
We have been trying to figure this out since we first started our 360 program. We’ve decided that any story can be a 360 story as long as you take the right approach to telling that story. We’ve naturally gravitated to the outdoor/extreme sports stories in our first year, but we hope to branch out and do some more serious reports and also hope to get some breaking news stories in 360. I think breaking news could be the most dramatic use of this immersive technology.
In general we look for a story that allows us to place all of our viewers directly in the action and gain a perspective that traditional cameras can’t capture. The BASE Jumper story was a good example of that because our viewers could feel what it was like to perch on the railing of the bridge before jumping, and that’s not something that translates easily to 2D video and editing. I also think our eclipse story provided the same concept even if it was less extreme. Being at a total eclipse is a wild event, and it’s not just about the sun disappearing behind the moon…when the whole world around you goes dark in the middle of the day, it’s a feeling you can’t quite describe. With 360 and goggles on you can truly feel how surreal that moment was.
How do you have to think about video differently for 360 than typical photography?
I’ve been a traditional photographer for almost 20 years and shooting with 360 requires a real change in your approach to covering a story. Gone is your ability to get wide, medium, tight shots to bring the viewer into the action. Now you’re shooting all the shots all the time, and so instead you focus on where the camera is placed. You’re looking for action AND reaction in the same shot hopefully forcing the viewer to look around to the sides and behind them.
In a lot of ways you have to be more aggressive since you can’t just sit on the sidelines and zoom into the action…you have to get in there and place the camera between the action. I view the 360 camera as if I was able to pick up and move an actual viewer around. Where would they want to be if I could do that?
Also, there’s a lot of hiding and running away from the camera since you’re always in the shot as a photographer as well. Just about every shot starts with me ducking behind a wall or running away from the camera before the action starts otherwise I’m just standing there in the shot.
In the base jumping piece, that shot at the end where he glides right by the camera was perfect. How did that come together?
This guy (Miles Dasher) is an expert at BASE jumping, so it was easy to guess where he would go. We just set the camera up at his landing pad and I think he and his partner just knew to get close. We got lucky, but that placement is what makes 360. You have to always be thinking about where the camera needs to be.
These work great on YouTube/mobile as you note. What about on air? How do 360 videos translate into a newscast?
I wish I had a better way of using our 360 on air. We have some tools that allow us to punch into the 360 video and make it 2D. We can pan around in the edit bay and then run it like a normal story, but then you’ve taken away the viewer’s ability to do that for themselves which is a very important part of 360 storytelling. We let the viewers view what they want, how they want, and so these stories don’t quite translate to on-air. We have done some explainers and we’ve used screen capture to show us scrolling around the video online, but otherwise we’ve let these pieces live on their own on the web.
I know it took me some practice to be able to follow the action well when watching. Do you have to help viewers through it sometimes?
We are still working on this. Facebook doesn’t allow you to use the goggles easily and when we link to YouTube, unless the viewer opens the video in the YouTube app on their phone, they can’t get to the cardboard setting to use the phone with goggles (which is the best way to view all of these stories). We try to explain this online and on-air, but we have a lot more work to do to get viewers to a point where it’s not a chore or overwhelming to watch these stories easily.
As for following the action once you’re in the story, Brian (the reporter) and I spend a lot of time trying to think about each shot in the edit bay and where we need to start the shot spatially. We try to rotate the shot to where we’d like the viewer to focus first and then they can look around. We’ve also learned that we need to have a transition between all shots because it can be very jarring for viewers who are looking around in one shot to have the shot change without any visual clue.
What would you want someone who is new to 360 video to know before they try it at their station?
The first thing I’d tell them is they need a lot of disk space and a fast computer. With my Go Pro OMNI I take six 2.7k videos and stitch them to make one 8k shot. If you have 10 shots for a story you’ll be moving a lot of data through the system. If your computer is slow or has a weak graphics card then you’ll be watching a spinning wheel for very long periods of time and can take you out of creatively thinking. With the consumer level cameras this is less intense, but you’ll still be moving 4k files around which is cumbersome on a slower system.
Secondly, I’d tell them to just get out there and do it. Just try it. You won’t know what works or how your workflow needs to be set up until you actually do it with a deadline. We have drastically changed our workflow and techniques since our Goose 360 story a year and a half ago.
Finally, I would say to use the new technology but stick with traditional storytelling techniques and journalistic standards we have all spent our careers cultivating and enhancing. KTVB (and our parent company TEGNA) started our 360 immersive project with the goal of telling a great story first, then using the 360 to pull our viewers into the story in a unique way. Don’t use 360 as the gimmick. As journalists, using 360 but adding the context and perspective of the people in the story and the reporter observing the story has to be the number 1 focus going into the project.
Take a look behind-the-scenes of more Murrow-winning work here.