BBC Launches New VR Studio with Documentary about the Nile

Explore the Nile in this immersive VR documentary released by the BBC’s new VR Hub.

Currently, there is contention between Egypt and Ethiopia over the potential damming of the largest river in the world, the Nile River. BBC Africa correspondent Alastair Leithead even says this disagreement could potentially lead to a war over water.

In his new two-part immersive documentary, Leithead explains that Ethiopia wants to build Africa’s largest hydroelectric power station and one of the world’s largest dams to provide electricity to the country in desperate need, by damming the Nile. And Egypt considers it a threat to its sovereignty.

The BBC explores this contentious new project in a VR documentary — Damming the Nile —  that was released this Tuesday by their new VR studio, VR Hub.

The documentary is an immersive and engaging form of storytelling about a contentious political issue that is complicated to understand without geography and perspective — VR allows the BBC to provide the user with both.

“As a foreign correspondent, my whole job is to take people to new places and give context and understanding,” said Leithead. “By taking audiences to Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, viewers can explore these issues up close for themselves, and understand the politics of the Nile through a new perspective.”

In the news documentary, viewers have a bird’s eye perspective of the Nile as it currently stands, but can also see realistic renderings of the projected infrastructure and its effects on the landscape.

Damming the Nile is available now, along with a new BBC Oculus Gear VR app. Both are the product of the BBC’s new VR Hub — a centralized team within BBC producing VR content with staffers who have experience across the media platform, not just those who are focused on tech.

“We’re understanding that you can’t separate editorial and creative from the technology,” said Zillah Watson, head of VR at BBC. “It’s a multidisciplinary team — all people bridge both worlds — where previously tech and creative were separate.”

The Hub was formed in November, and work on the documentary began in December. But, Damming the Nile is just a taste of what is to come from the VR Hub. The BBC is also releasing VR work celebrating women’s suffrage in the U.K.

The BBC is no stranger to VR, however. The media company has released VR projects from their research and development lab for years, like a VR Planet Earth and a space simulation. But this project signals a change of model and focus.

“The earlier news projects we had done were asking if we could tell a story at all using VR for news,” Watson said, “but Damming the Nile was asking if we could tell an engaging story while taking the audience on a journey – all while understanding the news story.”

The BBC aims to bring VR to the mainstream and believes highly produced videos like Damming the Nile could be the solution.

“Our research shows that for as long as the quantity of high-quality content remains low, and the experience remains cumbersome, mainstream audiences won’t use VR,” Watson said in November when VR Hub was first announced. “That’s why we’re focussing on a small number of high impact pieces that have broad, mainstream appeal.”

Image Credit: BBC

About the Scout

Allison Hollender

Allison is a Bay Area journalist reporting for VRScout. Follow her attempts at jokes @alleyrenee16.

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