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ABC News Brings Virtual Reality to Its Reporting

ABC News correspondents have always journeyed to far-away places and long-forgotten corners of the world, Now they’ll be able to make their viewers feel as if they are truly along for the ride.

The news unit intends to offer viewers a different kind of look at the places to which reporters travel – a 360-degree shot made possible through virtual reality. On tonight’s edition of “Nightline,” correspondent Alexander Marquardt (pictured, above) will offer a rare look inside Damascus, Syria, and some of the work being done there to preserve antique treasures. During the report, viewers will be prodded to check out a panoramic, practically three-dimensional view related to the report that can be accessed anywhere on mobile or desktop by visiting ABCNews.com/VR and by downloading a virtual-reality app from Jaunt,a developer of virtual-reality hardware and software, for iOS and Android devices.

The technology “takes our storytelling to a new frontier,” ABC News president James Goldston said in a memo sent to staff Wednesday morning. “And I can’t wait to see how you use this new technology to engage our audience in thrilling new ways.”

ABC unveils the technology as more viewers are turning first to mobile devices and streaming video to get their first bits of information about breaking news at various times of the day. According to a review of comScore data by Pew Research Center’s 2015 look at the state of news media in the U.S., 39 of the top 50 digital news websites had more traffic to their sites and associated applications coming from mobile devices at the start of 2015 than from desktop computers.

Such content could also become more important as viewers start to tap on-demand programming for more of their needs. Virtual-reality footage could stand as an interesting ABC News option provided to a news junkie casting about for smartphone or tablet programming.

The ABC News effort could also feed into the update of an old kids’ classic that once transported them to faraway places. Google and Mattel have unveiled plans to reboot the View Master, the toy that enjoyed its greatest popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, with use of Google Cardboard, a 3-D viewer that pairs with a smartphone to create images that can be maneuvered and explored, unlike the static pictures that could be examined with the toy’s first incarnation.

The device ABC News used for its Syria report actually has 16 different cameras mounted on it. The images are then “stitched” together to create the 360-degree view, said executives, who likened the apparatus to something that looked akin to the R2-D2 character from “Star Wars” or the top of a Dalek from “Doctor Who.”

ABC News has more plans to use the technology around events such as the coming U.S. visit of Pope Francis, trips to places like Cuba that have been difficult for many viewers to reach or even coverage of the 2016 race for U.S. President, said Subrata De, ABC News’ VP of multiplatform newsgathering, during a Tuesday morning presentation.

ABC News has tested new technology before. Last December, the unit announced its use of “GoStream,” a live-streaming technology that allows correspondents to record and transmit footage using an app on their mobile devices.

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