Bringing Augmented Reality To Major Media

From ‘tell me a story’ to ‘show me a story’

Augmented reality is gradually adding another digital layer to our lives, in our homes, our hospitals and our high streets. Now, AR has also settled within the pages of printed media. The marriage of AR and publications, both online and offline, makes sense. Media outlets want to deliver gripping, entertaining, and meaningful content, which is precisely what AR helps to achieve. By its very nature, augmented reality creates a multilayered, multisensory experience. You aren’t just reading a story… You’re watching it unfold.

A big move for the Big Issue

Generally, printed media as an industry is rarely associated with technology and innovation. This has spurred claims that physical papers will soon be a relic of the past, replaced by digital alternatives. While print is still very much alive and kicking, some media companies have turned to AR to entice readers and ensure longevity.

The Big Issue, the world’s most circulated street newspaper, is hoping to use augmented reality to bring its pages to life. In partnership with multinational technology company Konica Minolta, the publication will offer readers a new way to access exclusive content through a free, augmented reality app called genARate. Every two months, the magazine will release an issue including exclusive AR content. The first issue featured a music video from ex-Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows, and an extract from Cressida Cowell’s ‘Wizards of Once’ book read by David Tennant.

Ashley McConnell, European Programme Lead of the Technology Innovation Programme at Konica Minolta, explains that the partnership sprung from a conversation with a local Big Issue vendor.

“I was talking with my local Big Issue vendor about declining sales and the challenges he is facing and it got me thinking about what I could do to support the charity,” he says. “We recently invested in augmented reality tech genARate, and it seemed like a really interesting opportunity to combine AR with print media to create an enhanced experience for The Big Issue readers, and encourage new readers.”

A new chapter for content

Layering digital content onto the real world presents an opportunity for media companies. As well as providing a rich experience for readers, augmented reality can be far more impactful than passive print. It can transcend language barriers and appeal to a wider demographic, making content more accessible to a larger audience. It also signals a change in the way that traditional media is consumed.

“We live in an on demand society. By layering on AR tech it adds a level of on demand to print media, giving readers a little something extra, something more, right there in the moment. It literally brings passive media to life and makes it interactive,” says McConnell.

This wouldn’t be the first time that AR has been used for storytelling, and it won’t be the last. In McConnell’s words, it is now ‘the right time’ due to consumer aptitude for apps and digital channels. That said, in order to capture audiences, augmented reality has to offer real value. There is a danger, for example, that it could be seen as a gimmick. McConnell, however, doesn’t share this concern.

“AR enables such a range of additional content, be that additional written content or audio-visual elements. It adds depth to stories you might not otherwise get from a short form article and it can boost the assets for longer form media too. It’s the layering of information and additional content that makes it so good for storytelling beyond just the written word.”

Another consideration that publications and technology providers need to think carefully about is whether augmented reality is right for their brand. In some cases, it may be inappropriate to offer a visual element alongside hard hitting stories, or could draw the reader’s attention away from a specific message. As with all industries, the audience should be central. If your readers are mobile shy perennials, then AR might not be the most effective tool for engagement.

Tech for good

The partnership between Konica Minolta and the Big Issue isn’t just about enriching content. McConnell explains that the project ties in with both organisations’ desire to make positive change. Bringing AR to the Big Issue, which was set up to provide opportunities for those affected by homelessness, is hoped to improve readership numbers and help more people. At the same time, purpose will drive profit by extending audience reach and industry influence.

“The goal of the partnership is to improve the lives of vendors through increased sales, and ultimately dismantle the social stigma and common misconceptions around Big Issue vendors,” explains McConnell. “The partnership will ultimately help The Big Issue converge its vital print based business model with new and innovative digital content in an ever evolving media landscape. It’s an incredible resource for people.”

Each new digital channel has chipped away at traditional publications, forcing them to divert resources to digitalisation. Why buy a paper, for example, when you can read it for free via an app or website? Nonetheless, printed media hasn’t gone away. Instead of fading into antiquity, the Big Issue has added another dimension to its paper through augmented reality. The move demonstrates a shift in content creation and consumption, and it’s likely that other brands will take a leaf out of their book. Suddenly, print doesn’t seem so passive.

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