The New York Times is giving out free Google Cardboard VR devices. Yes, again! The company had previously distributed a million some devices to print subscribers as part of the kickoff celebration around its then-new NYT VR app, built in collaboration with Google, back in November 2015. Today, the media company says it will send out another 300,000 Cardboard viewers to its “most loyal” digital subscribers.
The NYT says it will calculate loyalty based on the duration of their subscriptions, so it doesn’t seem like newer subscribers will make the cut.
This time around, the distribution is part of a larger effort to promote a new VR film called “Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart,” which will allow viewers to fly over Pluto and see its “rugged mountains and bright plains” for the first time, as well as stand on the planet’s surface while viewing its largest moon.
The film was developed by The NYT in partnership with the Lunar and Planetary Institute and the Universities Space Research Association in order to create accurate 3D virtual worlds using data collected from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.
The film is narrated by science reporter Dennis Overbye and produced by Jonathan Corum, Graham Roberts, Yuliya Parshina-Kottas and Evan Grothjan from The New York Times graphics desk, says The NYT. The original music was scored by Graham Roberts and performed by Jessica Ferri, Mio Kanehara, Daniel Ambe and Nobuki Momma. Also of note: The music was recorded using a 360° microphone, so the sounds can travel with the viewer’s movements.
The idea that VR can help transport viewers to far-off lands is not a new one — Google offers an “Expeditions” app for classrooms that lets teachers guide students on virtual field trips to destinations around the world, for example. Meanwhile, a startup called SpaceVR has just raised $1.25 million with the aim of launching high-def 360-degree cameras into space in order to bring the cosmos to VR headsets.
In other words, a journey to Pluto should serve as compelling content that will bring new users to both Google Cardboard and The NYT VR app, if they haven’t already given it a try.
Launched in November, The NYT VR app lets journalists tell their stories in a new format — immersive, 360-degree video. Its past stories have included those that focused on things like the global refugee crisis as it impacts children, the U.S. elections, border control issues between the U.S. and Mexico, terrorism and more. But only a few are more “fun,” like the story about dolphin and whales’ “secret language,” for example.
The new Pluto experience will be among this smaller group, and one of the few films that’s really about taking a journey for the fun that comes from being immersed in a new environment, along with the chance to learn more about the topic at hand.
The company says that the app has been downloaded more than 600,000 times across both iOS and Android — a decent-sized number, given VR’s newness. Though it’s unclear at this time how many of its users are regulars, and how many actually watch using their Cardboard device rather than without it. (While The NYT VR app works with Google Cardboard specifically, for those who don’t have the device, there’s a “smartphone” option as well.)
“Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart” will be published on May 19th to The NYT VR app. The Cardboard devices will be shipped next month to the addresses associated with readers’ NYT digital subscriptions.