Discover Hidden Cities. A VR film adventure unearthing city secrets with the Financial Times.
Join us on our journey with Natalie Whittle, Associate Editor, FT Weekend Magazine as we discuss a great collaboration.
A news organisation is a network of people. And the Financial Times is a network with global reach, connecting the news and knowledge of our bureau staff across continents with a readership that is equally international.
Cities are the economic and cultural points that link this network together, and so when the opportunity arose for a partnership between the FT and Google, we wanted to do something exciting with cities as the focus.
Through its technology Google has become a navigational force in urban life, so it made sense to look at how FT content could be overlaid onto Google Maps; a valuable twinning of two resources.
Hidden Cities was born, and it was particularly timely as it coincided with the FT’s drive towards digital innovation and online subscriptions.
With Brussels as our first city, we set about creating a cultural guide to a political powerhouse, aided by the expertise of our extensive journalistic staff there. A print supplement was expanded online in a dedicated microsite that we built in development with the creative agency Adam&Eve. It enables readers to look at the content by author, by activity and by ‘day’ or ‘night’; a playful platform with sleek looks and easy navigation.
London followed, again with the double formats of print supplement and microsite content. Our engagement analysis showed that our readers stayed for longer on this content than they typically did on the main FT.com platform – a really encouraging sign that this type of experimentation is very valuable.
For the second year of Hidden Cities, we wanted to offer more: a new iteration of what Hidden Cities could mean technologically. Again, we wanted to be making full use of what Google’s support could offer – in this case it’s Cardboard 360 VR viewer seemed like a brilliant opportunity to venture into a new journalistic area that our peers are just starting to explore, and which was virgin territory for the FT.
With a strategic focus on the Rio Olympic Games and its worldwide media attention, we prepared for a print supplement, microsite update and the release of the FT’s first VR film – The City Within: Life in Rio’s Favelas. This documentary style piece took advantage of Rio’s spectacular vantage points to narrate a story of disparate lives and economies in the Brazilian city, with our correspondent Samantha Pearson reporting in print and narrating the film too.
The film was a stunning success on our various platforms – gaining more than 2.8m views on our Facebook feed, where it was uploaded in full 360. This remains the FT’s highest video audience to date. We continued with a different take for our next city, Dublin, exploring the cultural consequences of the economic crash in a more experimental piece, shot in stereoscopic 3D.
With the focus of how crime fiction was inspired by political fallout post 2008, we had the award winning crime writer and Dubliner Tana French as our narrator, and commissioned Dublin based composer Enda Bates to score the film.
‘Dublin in the Dark: The Story of Emerald Noir’ reached 770,000 people within just three days. The quartet of cities made their own network, showing how differently and successfully the FT’s content can travel around the globe. Google was the key to unlocking this departure.