Getting the whole picture: Our experience with 360-degree video

By Jake Kreinberg

Nathan Griffiths has traveled the world as AP’s lead experimenter with 360-degree video. In this first of a two-part series, he shares what our strategy with the emerging format has been, why we’re expanding it into breaking news, and what the difference really is between 360-degree video and virtual reality.

Nathan Griffiths

For the past year, we’ve experimented with 360-degree video, sharing stories and scenes from around the world, including North Korea, Brazil and France. We’ve covered political conventions, award shows and even summer symphonies to immerse audiences in events they may not otherwise be able to experience.

Many of our 360-degree videos have been produced by Nathan Griffiths, an editor on our interactive journalism team. I talked with Nathan about our strategy behind choosing what gets filmed in 360 degrees in this first of a two-part series.


First, I have to ask: What’s the difference between virtual reality and 360-degree video?

With virtual reality, you can move around within the experience and interact with objects as if you had hands. With 360 video, you’re limited to being a sort of bystander – you can look all around you and be immersed in the experience, but you can’t interact with anything. On the other hand, 360 video can be produced more efficiently than virtual reality.

What opportunities does 360 video offer that traditional video reporting doesn’t?

Audiences get a much stronger sense of presence within the story. If you look at the 360 video we shot after the explosions in Chelsea in New York, you’ll see a lot of people walking around and cars driving as if nothing out of the ordinary were going on.

You get a more comprehensive view of what’s actually happening. With a traditional camera, you may just see a shot focused on the flashing lights from police cars or a zoomed-in angle of emergency responders and not see the whole picture.

What has our strategy been with 360-degree video so far?

It’s been to explore as wide a range of news topics as possible to see what that story might look like in 360. We can’t convert traditional video into 360 – it just doesn’t work like that.

We’ve been mostly experimenting with feature pieces and planned events to see what might work, what doesn’t work, and how we can best take advantage of the format. We still apply our same editorial standards to decide what stories we shoot in 360, looking at the newsiness and timeliness of them, as well as whether we can get rich visuals that suit the medium well.

You want the audience to feel like they’re immersed in the story environment, such as riding along in a hot air balloon.

Can 360-degree video be incorporated into breaking news?

Well breaking news is our bread and butter. So I think establishing the use cases and best practices for 360 video is innate to our DNA as a company and something that, in general, benefits the news industry as a whole.

So far, we’ve really only done two experiments around breaking news – one in Nice, France, and the other in Chelsea. We’re still in the early stages of what 360 video in breaking news might look like, but I think it’s possible. It’s something we’re planning to be more aggressive on.


Jake Kreinberg

Jake is the editor of Insights. He previously covered college sports as a reporter for The Associated Press and helped design its multi-year strategic plan. Have feedback about the blog? Jake would like to hear it -- contact him at insights@ap.org.

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