CBSN brings 360-degree videos to connected TVs

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CBS is bringing 360 degree videos to the big screen. The company today announced the launch of new apps for the Android TV and Amazon Fire TV which will add the new, more immersive video format to CBSN’s news coverage, kicking off with a 360-degree behind-the-scenes look into the filming of a 60 Minutes episode.

The episode in question is one that involves looking for gorillas in Africa – a subject that makes for an interesting use case for the technology, given how it enables viewers to further explore the scene as they accompany the news team on a journey through the continent.

While some may see 360-degree video today as being more fun than practical, the CBS News Digital team believes the format will become an increasingly important means of storytelling, including within the news genre it focusing on.

“Our new apps for Fire TV and Android TV featuring 360-degree video capabilities mark a major step forward in terms of how viewers will experience and interact with news in the future,” noted Christy Tanner, Senior Vice President and General Manager, CBS News Digital, in a statement about the launch.

The 60 Minutes video is only the first of many the company has planned.

A new playlist in the app will feature only 360-degree videos, for easier access to this content. Similar to interacting with 360-degree videos on the desktop, where users click around to explore the scene, viewers will instead be able to use their remote control to navigate through the videos.

360-degree videos are the standout feature found in the new apps, which have also been redesigned and will offer other features for finding related videos, editorially curated video playlists, and a personalized playlist of favorite videos.

The launch comes at time when CBSN’s streaming news service broke records, thanks to the U.S. election. The company earlier reported 19.1 million streams and 11.1 million viewers on election night, which toppled the prior record of 2.98 million streams and 1.4 million uniques on the night of first presidential debate.

The company didn’t break out how many people were tuning in via their connected TVs versus the desktop or mobile, however, but it has found that it’s attracting younger viewers, while the average viewer age is 38.

Supporting newer technology like 360-degree videos could give it something that would help it to pull in more of those key younger demographics going forward, assuming it’s ability to produce quality videos using this format.

While 360-degree videos have been popping up more than ever over the web, mobile and on Facebook, their use in news is still more limited.

That said, CBSN is hardly the first to experiment in this area.

ABC News launched a VR experience last fall to allow for a tour of Syria’s capital, and it more recently took viewers to Times Square on election night. The NYT launched its own initiative to integrate 360-degree videos into its daily news report, in addition to its standalone NYT VR app. Euronews has also shot dozens of videos in 360 degrees, across 13 countries. HuffPo has RYOT – VR. And The Hill tested out connecting with younger viewers on Snapchat using 360-degree videos on election night.

Most news organizations are only testing the waters with 360-degree videos, however, and are waiting to see how viewers respond. The hope is that the format offers a better way to tell a story, and can better engage viewers on social media platforms, where much news content (for better or for worse) is shared.

In addition, unlike traditional VR, 360-degree videos don’t require a separate headset to view, which gives them an advantage in terms of reach.

CBSN also has apps on Apple TV, PlayStation, Roku, and Xbox platforms, but didn’t say when its redesign would hit all platforms.