In this section, we will further discuss the immersive videos at Euronews through an analysis of some storytelling content grips of the bureau’s 360-degree videos. The data material consists of 95 pieces of 360-degree videos in which we identified the topics of coverage, production choices, verbal contextualizations, and technonarrative structures. To compare 360-degree videos and “flat” videos, the analysis is followed by a comparison to 20 selected flat videos on similar topics from the website www.euronews.com. Note that the 360-degree videos analyzed here represent the early stages of Euronews’ experimentation with 360-degree videos and actually include the first 95 pieces of production. We chose the period from 16 February 2016 to 11 July 2017 because it best represents what we wanted to capture in this chapter: the transition and adoption of Euronews into 360-degree video production. Euronews has continued its production of 360-degree and as of August 2019 has published over 170 videos.
Based on content, Euronews’ 360-degree videos span wide on topics comprising arts, politics, humanitarian issues, culture, and sports. “Culture”, which includes cultural events, festivals, and concerts, was actually the most prominent topic in 25% of the videos. Political issues were highlighted in 19% of the videos—mainly owing to a 360-degree series that focused on the 2017 French presidential election. Humanitarian issues, such as refugee camps, natural disasters, and war zones, were featured in 12% of the videos. Apart from these more classical categories, there was a substantial group of videos comprising “curiosities”: for instance, a tour of Hitler’s car or a beer brewery in the Arctic. Such clips are very popular and constitute 21% of the videos. Moreover, 11% of the productions might be classified as “travel”, which simply aimed to present a certain location to the user. Sports and arts constituted the least popular categories, holding 3% and 5% of the productions, respectively. Another striking feature that surfaced in the identified categories was the lack of time-sensitive content: the 360-degree cameras were simply not used as a news-gathering tool in the initial phase of the immersive productions at Euronews. It can be discussed whether this somewhat surprising tendency was attributable to turnaround constraints or editorial choices; nevertheless, none of the 95 videos featured any particularly time-sensitive content.
Doing a 360-degree production implies more than disseminating visuals, meaning imagery. Each video, just like any other journalistic clip, is contextualized within reality by means of verbal text elements such as headlines and introductory information of time, place, and event. Such verbal contextualizing elements largely affect how the overall journalistic message is perceived (Gynnild 2014; Gynnild 2018). In terms of the accompanying texts, the 360-degree videos in this study contained only approximately half the number of words compared with flat videos. In other words, the 360-degree productions provided notably less textual information (164 words per video) than the flat videos (289 words per video). This tendency may indicate that 360-degree videos are considered by the online news desk to be a more stand-alone format than flat videos. It might also indicate that the aim of covering issues by 360-degree videos is to experiment with visual storytelling that requires less verbal contextualization.
The verbal decontextualizing aspect of the 360-degree approach is illustrated, for instance, by Euronews’ coverage of Bocuse d’Or, the unofficial French world championship of culinary arts. Whereas Euronews’ 360-degree report from the event contained 55 words, their flat video from the same event contained 148 words. Moreover, while the flat video comprised several interviews, clips of the chefs in action and a voiceover, the 360-degree video featured only shots from the celebration, providing glimpses of the atmosphere and audience surrounding the competition. In this way, the 360-degree video narrative appeared more simplistic than the in-detail interviews provided in the flat videos. This particular video serves as a clear example of a 360-degree production conducted “on top of” a normal TV production, as Euronews often tends to do. The approach may indicate that the 360-degree video as a medium did not have competitive advantages in terms of conducting interviews and presenting a consistent story from the championship event; it served more as a spectator approach to the Bocuse d’Or, a complementary story. The findings also indicate that employing the 360-degree video camera is a more inexpensive way to provide an online story that harvests views simply because of the novelty of the medium itself and not its actual production value. As the journalists were already on the scene, placing a 360-degree camera at the scene could be a simple way to get an additional story at a low cost.
Another interesting feature that surfaced during the textual analysis was the extent to which the articles mentioned the medium of capture as part of the news story. In total, 71% of the videos contained either explicit (“A 360-degree visit to...”) or implicit mentions (“Take a look around...”) to 360-degree video in the headlines or preamble. This is a way of referring to the story as interplay between the user and available content and leaning towards a greater user-oriented focus of video content. However, in terms of contextualization, it also means that the medium is itself a substantial part of the message or newsworthiness of the story, or at least that it is something that may fill sensation criteria in the early stages of immersive journalism. Although this can be relevant information for the user, one may also be critical towards such a presentation if the medium is not necessarily well fit for the content it should cover. One may argue that such types of sensational journalism do not add any value if the medium itself is the sensational element.