Cost and Time

High-end, live motion virtual reality with added interactivity and CGI elements is very expensive and has a very long production cycle.

This production’s high cost and time was partially a result of the specialized skills, the immature equipment, and the unfamiliar processes. Those are detailed above. The authors can imagine efficiencies and changes in the production process, and see benefits of the more mature equipment coming to market. We would expect these to reduce the costs significantly. However, the high cost of this project was also a function of its end result—a highly produced work crafted from many different types of raw material. In this, it seems that this style of virtual reality can be compared in cost to medium or high-end TV (where journalism is sometimes present), or a large-budget web/mobile project (an area in which journalism has rarely had the resources to compete).

The cash costs of this project were significant. Secret Location charged $55,000 for labor, and another $19,515 for the camera hardware, design, and development. This included substantial, additional in-kind contributions. For Frontline, the project added approximately 25 percent to the production cost of its regular TV documentary, which covered the additional filming, travel to the edit, director’s time, and an editorial team to oversee the project. All parties contributed significant in-kind efforts, which did not show up on the cash budget.

The cost of highly produced VR work would seem to have implications for viable business models in the short term. If the best cost comparison is with high-end TV or console game production, it is likely that currently producers and commissioners will need to produce high-end journalistic VR without an expectation of direct cost recovery from audiences or advertisers.iii

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