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Q&A: How Essential is Revolutionizing Mobile 360° Video

Storyhunter and Essential have teamed up to create stories that showcase the power of mobile 360° video. Armed with Essential Phones and…
Q&A: How Essential is Revolutionizing Mobile 360° Video

Storyhunter and Essential have teamed up to create stories that showcase the power of mobile 360° video. Armed with Essential Phones and Essential 360 Cameras, over fifty Storyhunter journalists and filmmakers around the globe are telling stories with a different and unique perspective on a range of topics from the world’s largest dog park, to US/Mexico border activities, to the life of a storm chaser.

To get a closer look at what makes 360° video so effective and how the company is changing the industry, we spoke to Essential’s President, Niccolo De Masi.

Storyhunter: Thanks for chatting with us, Niccolo. Let’s just jump right in — how is Essential trying to change the mobile video space?

Niccolo De Masi: Ultimately, we are showcasing innovation via the creation of a new consumer electronics brand. Innovation for us comes in the form of both the hardware and the software. And our phone, which is our first product, is future-proofed to magnetically attach a number of accessories — the first of which is the world’s smallest 4K 360° video camera.

360° video and VR are effectively going to revolutionize the perspective we have on photography for the first time in 150 years. It’s one of the corners of the world that I feel we actually haven’t evolved since the time of the Civil War, which is quite remarkable. I think we’re spearheading the charge to revolutionize not just the perspective of news, but also what it means to have user generated content for VR. People talk a lot about VR, and it’s generally professionally-created content using a $10,000 dollar camera that you sling on a tripod. But we’ve noticed over the years that consumers’ appetites for using something is exponential with convenience and the right price point. So we’ve moved the price point down a long way. We’ve also made it something that’s only as big as your thumb. Our competitors are making cameras that are the size of your fist, require a power cable, and cost significantly more.

Life of a Stormchaser” from Essential’s 360° video gallery

SH: What else do you think sets your camera apart from your competitors?

NDM: We have the best stitching, we actually have a Qualcomm chip in the device, and we can either store the video on the phone or upload it to the cloud. So there are both livestreaming opportunities to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, as well as video-on-demand. We’re the early mover and I believe we’ve made the best quality, most stylish, and smallest 4K 360° camera to date.

Digital photography was exponentially prevalent as soon as the device got incorporated in your phone and you could carry it with you. This is the same thing holding back VR and 360° in my mind, and the cool thing is that we’re solving this by putting this device in every user’s hand if they choose an Essential phone. In the news space, this is particularly exciting because it shows people what it’s like to really be there. It’s the first time we can say what it’s like to really be there as opposed to ‘Hey, there’s Mount Fuji two miles out the window.’

Plus, our camera app is pretty unique. There’s one camera app on our phone that allows you to connect not only video-on-demand or streaming from the 360° camera, but also the internal camera on the phone. The internal camera has two rear lenses and one front-facing lens, and the 360° camera also runs through the same seamless camera application. We’re making this easy for a user and driving the virtuous circle between making things easier and making them cheaper and them being more accessible in everyday life.

SH: So what kind of stories do you hope to see created with Essential’s tech?

NDM: The reality is that I hope it will be used quite broadly. I don’t want to prejudge the kinds of stories, but I actually think 360° video works for everybody. If you want to record your son’s first baseball game, it’s great for that. If you want to record your family’s thanksgiving, it’s compelling. If you want to record what it’s like to be there in the middle of the next presidential inauguration, it’s a unique VR perspective. What I love about it is the breadth. So what’s exciting to me is that there isn’t a pre-judged demographic. It’s something that absolutely everybody at all ages and all demographics can use.

SH: Do you think it will change how people tell stories?

NDM: Yes, absolutely. I think one of the things that is challenging is the fact that it takes a little bit of nuance and effort to understand how to tell a story where you’re in the center of the action. It’s pretty unique, so most people are used to ‘Hey, there’s people protesting in Tahrir Square, let’s film that.’ Now, all of a sudden, you need to be in the middle of Tahrir Square if you want to use the device. So truth in news is really helped in a grand way. That’s a big topic these days, and the exciting thing is we really triangulate truth and news with 360° video.

At the same time, it puts the journalist right in the middle of the action. And what that means is that they become an influencer in their own right. The exciting thing in my mind is that news has already been moving in that direction. There’s a whole slew of people who are already personal brands in the news category. I think that ultimately media and entertainment overall have been moving in a very personalized direction, and this is exactly what 360° brings to the forefront. So people who are best at it might be young, up and coming, who are experimenting with it, but it’s also going to be great for people who are established name brands.

The way I expect this to work is that, initially, it’s a huge platform transition. I’ve been through a number of platform transitions and I think it’s a huge opportunity for new newsmakers and new journalists to build a name for themselves. But at the same time, once you get a number of new journalists building momentum, you’ll find the established people coming back and saying ‘Hey, I don’t want to miss out on this.’ So I expect it will actually be up and comers who generate the most momentum initially and then you’ll see it catapult to the big league.

US/Mexico Border Wall Pinkie Kiss” shot by Storyhunter filmmaker John Dickie

SH: Can you tell us a little more about how a platform transition like this works?

NDM: If I had told you five years ago that disappearing video was going to be the bomb in 2017, you wouldn’t have believed me and I probably wouldn’t have believed me. In the next four years, my bold prediction is that 360° video is going to be very pervasive on social media. It’s not going to replace traditional photographs, but I think it’s going to be very significant. And the reason for it is that it does a number of things and it makes video rewatchable. Where video is rewatchable, advertising dollars flow as people spend more time there and then creators ultimately spend more time there.

SH: Is there anything you’d like to tell our global community of freelancers who are interested in making 360° videos?

NDM: 360° wins when you have a lot going on at close range, not when you have a little bit going on far away. We’re not going to be a telephoto lens, we’re never going to be the best medium for taking photos of the moon or Mount Fuji five miles outside the window. We win with what people find most compelling, which is the up close and personal.

I think it’s compelling with all types of stories whether it’s your family’s thanksgiving, or your son’s birthday, or your child’s first step or first crawl, or a political event. Imagine the first time we get one of these things in the White House press briefing room. It’s much smaller than people think it is. Imagine the first time you get it into the Oval Office. There’s just so many places people can’t access that you want to know what it’s like to stand there.

We can’t all travel everywhere all the time and because of that, virtual reality is important. And since 360° video can actually work even without goggles on, it’s a special opportunity. If you’re sitting in your gamer chair, you can put VR goggles on, but if you don’t have goggles on, you can still view the video on your phone and I think that’s really exciting. There’s just so many times when people wonder what it’s like to be somewhere and 360° video is answering that question.

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By D. Simone Kovacs, Storyhunter Editor