360-Degree VR Documentaries Heighten Prospects for Non-Profits

"We sought to understand the charitable behavior profile of VR audiences, the effectiveness of 360 video compared to more traditional forms of advertising."
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A growing number of non-profit organizations are looking to technology to pull viewers into their cause. The 360-degree documentary Clouds Over Sidra, which tracks the Syrian refugee crisis, helped drive donations to UNICEF. Now other non-profits have begun to follow suit.

But does this immersive technology actually drive interest and donations?

Nielsen contributed its time and efforts with a pro bono analysis designed to help nonprofit organizations make better use of this emerging technology to engage audiences.

"Specifically, we took on this study to uncover answers to three questions," said Harry Brisson, director of Lab Research at Nielsen. "We sought to understand the charitable behavior profile of VR audiences, the effectiveness of 360 video compared to more traditional forms of advertising, and the content characteristics that drive donations and other desirable measures for charities."

Previous Nielsen analysis found that roughly one in four U.S. consumers between 18 and 54 identified themselves as likely to use VR technology. A second study of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers aged 18-54 looked at the connection between potential adopters of virtual reality technology (who Nielsen calls PaVRs) and their willingness to take up a charitable action.

The survey results found that PaVRs were more likely to donate to a charity (57 percent), volunteer at a non-profit (43 percent) and contact a government representative (22 percent_ when compared to those not in the PaVR group. This group was also more likely to donate to 129 of 134 charities asked about in the survey.

Nonprofits take note, Nielsen said: These behaviors reflect the broader demographic profile of PaVRs as higher-income urban professionals who advocate for causes products and services they care about.

The background: Nielsen asked more than 1,000 consumers to its Las Vegas-based research lab to view a 360-video in a Samsung Gear VR headset, and roughly 100 U.S. consumers viewed a piece of midroll (online advertising that plays in the middle of a video) on a tablet.


The ongoing research has found that 360 video is extremely effective at communicating charity brands to consumers, as over four in five consumers (84 percent) were able to recall the featured charity across the content tested, significantly more than were able to recall the brand from traditional ad pods (53 percent), Nielsen said.

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While Nielsen said it's clear that well-thought-out 360-degree video can have a positive impact for charity brands, a key question remains: what makes great VR experiences? Early analysis suggests that VR creators need to focus on identifying a compelling world for their story to take place: in the media lab, evaluation of an experience's setting was the strongest driver of viewing interest.

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