ABC News Takes Viewers to Syria With Virtual Reality Storytelling

By Brian Flood 

ABC News becomes the first major U.S. news division to launch a virtual reality platform taking viewers directly to where news is happening.

For ABC News VR’s inaugural project, ABC News foreign correspondent Alex Marquardt and his team took to the streets of Damascus, Syria with a stereographic cinematic VR camera, documenting the city’s sites for a 360 degree experience.

“It’s a rare opportunity to get access to report from Damascus and we were able to do so at a critical point in this war. Once in the city you can be tricked into thinking that all is well, given the relative calm,” Marquardt told TVNewser. “But you are soon reminded by the booms echoing from the front lines nearby that this is very much a country at war, it’s people suffering devastating losses and incredible hardships.”


TVNewser was invited to a special advanced screening of Marquardt’s tour of Syria. Using ABC News-branded Google Cardboard VR viewers, within a few seconds Marquardt was giving us a tour of the sites of Damascus, which have been at the center of Syria’s 4-year long civil war. In addition to the VR report, Marquardt will report on the preservation of Syria’s endangered antiquities and artifacts tonight on Nightline.

“Through the VR camera we are getting to transport the audience to Syria, giving them a glimpse of both one of the most beautiful countries in the world but also how Syrians are living their lives amid this war,” Marquardt said.

Discovery Communications launched a similar product last month, and CBS Interactive unveiled what it believes to be the first virtual reality comedy short earlier this Summer at Cannes Lions. Vice Sports and a variety of other brands have also dabbled in virtual reality, but ABC News VR is the first major U.S. network news organization to play in this space.

ABC Google

Google Cardboard allows you to view virtual reality content by simply inserting your smartphone in the device.

Google Cardboard is not required for the VR experience, but does enhance it. Marquardt’s is the first and only VR piece for now, but ABC plans to use VR technology prominently during coverage of the 2016 presidential election and may release a story tied to the Pope’s upcoming visit by taking U.S. viewers to Cuba and other locations that aren’t readily accessible.

ABC News VR is available by downloading Jaunt’s VR app for iOS and Android devices or through ABC News website.