National Geographic is the latest media conglomerate to enter into the virtual reality space.
At a May 9 NewFronts presentation in New York, the 128-year-old media company revealed that it will launch NG VR Studio in an attempt to bring audiences “to the front lines of action,” and give viewers on-the-ground access to various brand explorers, photographers and storytellers.
The studio will offer a mix of original and franchise experiences that touch upon the stories covered in critically acclaimed docuseries Explorer, following photographers Brian Skerry and Renan Ozturk and traveling to the Red Planet ahead of the November premiere of documentary-scripted hybrid series Mars, from Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment and Radical Media.
Nat Geo also unveiled its digital programming slate for 2016-17, which included National Geographic Channel’s first-ever digital shorts series Before Mars, a prequel to Mars. The six-part series, which is set in the present day, tells the story of change, exploration, discovery and friendship while providing a narrative arc to the larger series.
Nat Geo Wild will also venture into the digital space with Wild_Life with Bertie Gregory, featuring the filmmaker’s journey into the Pacific Northwest in search of coastal rain wolves. Episodes of the short-form series will drop weekly on Nat Geo’s YouTube channel, along with other social-sharing platforms, beginning in June.
In one episode, viewers will see a 2,000-pound Steller sea lion put Gregory’s head in its mouth. “But it was very much a loving, tender bite rather than aggressive (bite),” the filmmaker, pictured, told the NewFronts audience.
The series is “raw. It’s real. It’s intimate and I hope you like it, otherwise I am unemployed,” he joked.
Claudia Malley, Nat Geo’s chief marketing and brand officer, told StreamDaily the brand has put a deliberate emphasis on digital growth over the past year, and that effort is paying off in the form of millions of global followers across platforms. On Instagram, alone, the brand has 48.4 million followers. It also has a significant presence on Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat.
“We have been growing consistently and, going forward, I think where you are going to see almost a catapult is in some of the social-first ideas we are bringing out ande the new video storytelling elements (being implemented). We’ve had a lot of learnings in the last year,” said Malley.
Funding the shift is the November sale of Nat Geo’s media assets, including its magazine, book, digital and social channels, to a joint partnership led by 21st Century Fox. The deal was reportedly worth $725 million – money that goes into the brand’s television and digital programming.
Malley said the deal gave the Nat Geo Society (which retains 27% ownership of the brand) access to Fox’s technology and global media footprint.
“The society reaps the benefits of the sale. They have now a very big endowment they can now really invest into science and exploration,” she said.
Also announced at the NewFronts were Animal Close Up, providing a closer view to cute and strange animals; Get Out: A Guide to Adventure, featuring insider tips and tricks from adventure experts; InTime, providing a hyper-lapse journey to iconic travel destinations; Invisible, a slow motion examination of nature with scientists and psychologists; and Limitless, exploring the bodies and minds of individuals who seem “almost super-human.”
Rounding out the newly announced digital series are NGenius, an original web series that sets out to answer intriguing questions from across science and history; NG Gold, offering wild and unbelievable moments around the globe; and The Real (City), which uncovers hidden gems in cities across the globe.
Meanwhile, National Geographic will lean on its Instagram followers to produce an original series across the photo-sharing website. MoviNG Pictures will capture intimate moments from photographers in the field through short videos.
With files from Darah Hansen, StreamDaily