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How have AR, VR and the Metaverse impacted the future of media and communications? In this Cogcast episode, Content Acquisitions Leader at Jio Tesseract, Ishika Gupta joins Cognito’s Account Director Vanja Lakic to discuss the role of mixed reality in the current media landscape, changes in the ways audiences obtain news and how technology will play a role in retaining audiences in the years to come.


Transcript for podcast

Vanja Lakic 0:05 Hi everyone, welcome back to Cogcast, Cognito’s podcast where we talk to journalists and media pros about the ins and outs of journalism and PR. I’m Vanja Lakic – your host today, also a former journalist. With me I have Ishika Gupta, who is an AR/VR storytelling specialist. Ishika is my former classmate from the Columbia Journalism School. She’s gone on to work at publications like CNBC, HuffPost, and the Harvard Business Review. She is now an AR, VR and metaverse content acquisitions leader at Jio Tesseract, India’s largest mixed reality firm. Ishika, welcome.

Ishika Gupta 0:45 Well, thank you. Thank you for having me. That sounds like a very like, you know, extensive career, even though it feels like it's only like five years old. We were at J-School, you know, like walking through the upper West side feeling sad that our stories are not getting approved.

Vanja Lakic 1:05 Well, you've come a long way since then. Thank you for joining. Today, I want to talk to you about your time as a journalist, and how journalism has evolved and how virtual and mixed reality are playing a role in the future of storytelling you're in that space, very innovative stuff. So, if it's OK with you, I'll just kind of start off by asking you a very classic PR question – and that is when you were a journalist, what did you look for in a good story pitch and which story pitches did you ignore?

Ishika Gupta 1:33 When I was a journalist, I think something that I definitely looked for in a story was the novelty factor. How is this story really different from the norm? Is it creating or adding any real value to a user or a reader? And is it solving any real problem? And last but not the least, like does it have any potential to build impact in a larger context.

So these are some of the things that I would, you know, often look for. And yes, and you know what I think, what journalism essentially in a sense, teaches a person is to have like really good news judgment and then it teaches you critical thinking and a lot of like in-depth research, right? So whenever you're out there searching for a story and seeing if this is going to work or not, this is what you - like you at the core of it, you think that is this like, what kind of an impact this can have? And does it actually have the potential to really change people's lives? If yes, then go for it and, you know, kind of work on that story. And most of these stories feel like, you know, like some of them you'll have to go searching for, like, if you have a hunch about something and it's wrong, then you're like, oh, let me go run off this.

But then there are times when these stories, like, it's a lot about networking also, it's about building that relationship with a lot of like, important people. Because this one time, I was working with this organization, this education organization called IGNOU it basically like, you know, takes care of a lot of education needs of special needs students. Now, what happened was that I had built I did, I just done like a casual story when I was in touch with the director. So this one time when the director was facing some problems, he called me up and he's like the entire institute is facing, facing closure because to higher up higher, higher education institutions have like, you know, kind of there's some politics which is going on.

So because of which the students will not be getting their degrees and they, you know, covering that whole thing, understanding the student's point of view and really figuring out where the politics was, you know, making the situation going in was what the story was about, right? And that time, I was just 19 years old and that story got published on the front page of India's third-largest, international daily with a circulation of close to two million people. So, I mean, sometimes it's, I think it's a lot about just having your own judgment and building a good network.

Vanja Lakic 3:53 Absolutely. Yeah, you touched on something really important there in that relationship building, which is what we do a lot here, for our clients, we build their relationships with journalists, and with that, what other happenings in the world of journalism do you see that PR people need to know?

Ishika Gupta 4:11 Yeah, for sure. I think it's - the PR and journalism, and media industry in general, I think we just need to keep up with everything that is happening in the tech space because I feel like we should really be where our audiences are. Like we can't now just rely on, you know, traditional forms of media formats to really read and assume that that's where people will be, you know, getting in touch with the story, like, you know, newspapers, television, radio, etc., I mean, sure, those are still like, you know, they still constitute like a major aspect of the and a share of the entire user base. But I think a lot of it is now moving to tech spaces, right? Like TikTok and Instagram, like if, for example, you ask anybody where they get the news from, like, especially Gen-Z, especially millennials, right? Like they'll be like, oh I just heard about this on Instagram or I read about this on Tiktok or like I just saw like some influencer, you know, telling me about this on this social media platform.

So a lot has to do with really going with the flow with how the tech is evolving, and a lot of this is beyond - and beyond, of course, like, you know, social media, we have how AI is now coming into the whole, like, you know, disruption space with different industries, we have AR/VR which is, you know, which is meant to enhance a lot of your storytelling and increase retention. And then we also have something which was more popular last year, which was Blockchain and Metaverse, which was, you know, meant to create new monetization opportunities for news organizations.

So, yeah, I mean, just keeping up with where the tech is flowing and you know, playing along with the algorithms and you know, just thinking where my audience is, what kind of story I'm writing, is my audience on this platform or not? And then just really optimizing content for each platform is really going to help you reach a wider audience.

Vanja Lakic 6:02 Yeah, that's true. You mentioned the Metaverse and that was on everyone's mind at one point and with that came, of course, the promise of a journalist's ability to do storytelling from the metaverse and connect with sources through it. That's slightly fallen off the radar in recent months, what are your impressions on where the Metaverse is going and what role AR/VR mixed reality will play in the future of journalism?

Ishika Gupta 6:25 So, when we think of this technology, right -6:54Like it's not like this is new to what the Metaverse is. The Metaverse is just a term which has honestly been coined in the last few years. But it has kind of been more in the mainstream or it's been growing in the mainstream since I would say 2015, which is when Facebook had acquired Oculus.

It's this, you know, hardware company in AR/VR which through it wants to build an entire end-to-end from hardware-software content platform ecosystem which, you know, sort of gives you presents and gives you inter opportunity.

Now, what AR/VR in a sense does is that it will basically change the way we consume and experience news. So what I really mean by that is, first of all, it will give you a deeper context for the stories.

So what it does is that it will transport you as an audience to different spaces and places and times, providing a deeper understanding of the stories reported, then it will transport you into different environments. What that ends up doing is that it gives you a sense of emotional connection and understanding with the sources in themselves.

It also makes it easier for audiences to retain information and understand a lot of complex issues which, you know, they may not be able to understand simply through text or videos or in an audio format. Another thing that AR/VR does is that it, it makes you an active participant in the news-making process. You know, it shifts the perspective from just being a passive consumer versus an active participator.

What that means is that audiences can now explore the scene of an event or interact with characters in a story and making it more engaging and then personal. And of course, like, you know, the last but not the least, like you can transport yourself to like different spaces using AR and VR. So that's the larger kind of impact that AR/VR has on journalism. And it will always be used for you know, for example, when we think about, you know, human relationships with technology, right? OK, so before 10 to 15 years ago, we only had, you know, these huge desktops, etc., right? And then the smartphone came along and now we are at a stage where, you know, we can't even live without this thing, right?

Like, right from my alarm to basically when I have to work out if I have to search for a recipe to when my meeting is or when I had to troubleshoot, like getting into this podcast with you, right? It all happened because of the smartphone, correct now, this is because this is just a human interacting with technology, right - So this is where we are at right now. But when we think about what's the next wave of computing platforms that humans will, that humans will be kind of like, you know, interacting with that is where AR and VR really comes into the whole picture.

What smartphones really help is essentially with thinking, and AR/V R goes one step ahead because it involves and makes your entire body and your sense interact within one. So while of course, like, you know, I won't say that it's right here that I definitely feel like it's like, you know, 10, at least 5 to 10 years down the line when you know, we'll see this technology being like in everybody's faces and everybody interacting with it on a daily basis. But to find that killer use case, we still haven't reached that stage because the killer use case for a phone is essentially calling - its communication, right?

Like if nothing else, like I want to pick up this phone because I want to be able to call you. I want to be able to message you. But for me to use an AR/VR headset - I still don't have the compelling use case with me. So to be able to figure out that use case is, you know, what the whole industry is kind of busy with and honestly, like it's, it's not that it has to come from the garage of, of some student who's in his final year of engineering, you know, figuring out some solution that this is what I want to do if at all needed, it could also to be a journalist who is like, you know, right now in a newsroom thinking that this is what I want to use, you know, AR and VR for. And that, that is what, you know, they will end up really like, you know, building a solution that may actually end up creating a use case that will make it handsy and accessible for everyone.

Vanja Lakic 10:36 Got it. Now, which publications do you think are using AR/VR effectively? And how should companies, for example, pitch story ideas to journalists so that they get opportunities in AR/VR content?

Ishika Gupta 10:49 I think right now, New York Times is doing a great job. There was a time back in 2015 when a lot of publications were using 360 VR cameras, because Facebook had just opened the publishing of 360 VR videos. And that just became easy for people to really just like browse through a different scene and like, you know, experience a particular environment through endless degrees.

So, in my opinion, the New York Times used to do this daily 360 then there is Nat Geo (National Geographic) which has made this very interactive explored VR. It's like an interactive experience for Oculus. Then Felix and Paul, they do some great science documentaries.

But nowadays, I think beyond that, there's this Volumetric capture company called Evercoast, which has captured Zelenskyy at a time when you know, it was very difficult for him to be accessible in a life format from Ukraine during the war to a 3D format where, you know, people with a smartphone can just like, you know, scan a particular space and have his 3D hologram live and hear him out. then besides that, even the sporting space, there are a lot of live data analytics which are displayed through AR projections. And there's this other company which is, you know, doing that with FIFA and through the phones.

So a lot of use cases which can come out, you know, covering sports, covering daily news reporting, a lot of like live news coverage, travel and science documentaries being done all around the space.

Vanja Lakic 12:18 You were mostly a video journalist when you were at HuffPost and CNBC. I'm wondering how video journalism has evolved, is AR/VR kind of the next frontier of video journalism? You know, 5-6 years ago, it was on the rise - It's kind of plateaued since, what do you think about its evolution and are we kind of reaching a stage where it's transitioning more into mixed virtual reality?

Ishika Gupta 12:41 So video and AR are two separate things. They're not interlinked to each other and definitely, no, the video has not plateaued, like video’s all around me. I wake up, and so Tiktok is unfortunately banned in India, but like, I wake up, and the reels section on Instagram is what it is, as a platform, showing me, right?

So video is definitely evolved in a way where, you know, we used to appreciate and used to aspire to, you know, really consume a lot of long-form content, but now that has shifted to bite-size, short-form content and now it's come to a point where like they're making silly reels, and you know, even a lot of influencers are now - I feel like the whole point of being a journalist is definitely there. But then even in the journalism space, there are a lot of influencers who are, you know, bringing out a lot of information without even having the tag of a journalist, right? Like they go to a particular place. Their like, oh I see this, this is what is happening, this is what they're reporting on the right from like, you know, how to spend this particular currency in a different country or why, for example, economies and how the economy is really affecting the local people, right?

Like this doesn't necessarily have to come from journalists, it could really come from influencers too. So and influencers in that we are also leveraging a lot of video formats because again, I come back to the same point that you have to go where your audience is, and a growing number of the Millennial and Gen-Z audience, which also constitutes the major part of what your audience is going to be, is on all the social media platforms.

And for the social media platforms, what is really important is that they need to make their audiences spend as much time on their platform as possible, right? And that can only happen if they have content on it, which is engaging, which retains and not just acquires a particular audience. And for that to happen, they only have video as a platform because it's long, it's engaging. So people will continue at least spend on an average 30 minutes on a particular platform through simple images and text, that is not possible - Video is definitely there, which is why it's constantly kind of innovating on short-form, reel-based content. And of course, AR/VR is there to enhance this particular experience as I mentioned, like it gives you a lot more emotion, depth and retention. You know, once that same information is, is augmented in a, in AR and VR format.

How organizations can benefit is like, you know, currently there are more monetization options available for video journalists, but there are less monetization options available in AR/VR. Yet, you can also, you know, partner with a lot of platform companies, you can partner with telcos, you can, you know, kind of get in touch with the sales team in your organization, which does branded and sponsored content. There is ad monetization, which is available through mobile AR, and then you could just like create end-to-end paid applications which can be published on different platforms.

Vanja Lakic 15:35 That's powerful, yeah, thank you, for that perspective. It's always interesting to know like where video is going, and compared to some of these other technologies, you're working in such an innovative space, of course and first, I want to ask you, what do you do as a content acquisitions leader?

And also, the second part of that question is, what are you hearing that could change the face of media in the next few years when it comes to technology and how that's going to help and enable media and journalism?

Ishika Gupta 16:09 So the first part, I'll give you some context. I work with Jio which is basically India's largest Telco. To put that into context, Jio is part of Reliance, Reliance is India's largest private sector company and Jio came into existence around 2015- 16. With the whole idea that they want to make 4G, very easily, affordable, accessible and available throughout the country.

So what they did was they made 4G which is, say about 1 to 2 gigs of data every month available for less than $4. In fact, for the first year, it was absolutely free. Now, what they ended up doing was, they made at least 80% of this country's population accessible and available on the network, which was not possible before. So our current user base is about 500 million users, which is more than even the population of the United States of America at this point in time.

So what ends up happening is that, of course, for, for AR/VR, what we're doing is that in India, there is no major player which is existent in this country, especially in this whole space. But what Jio Tesseract is doing is that we are creating an end-to-end ecosystem that comprises of our hardware, which is Jio class.

We have our own software services, we have our own content ecosystem which we've built, you know, over the last two years with a lot of Indie studios and companies, both Indian and global, and the best part about our entire ecosystem is that we have readily available, 4G, 5G and fiber which powers this whole ecosystem.

So what I do as a whole, as somebody who leads content acquisition, is that I am responsible for bringing engaging content that not just acquires people on the platform, but also retains them and ensures that you know, they are, first of all, at least aware of technology like AR/VR because it's awareness and information and education is still comparatively low when it comes to other technologies, right?

So my job is to really create that awareness first of all, and then it is to build content so that they can spend at least 15 minutes on a day. So till the time people are not spending at least 10 to 15 minutes on a head-mounted device in AR/VR, they will not be getting into the habit of using it on a daily basis.

And if they don't use it on a daily basis, then they will actually - then they will just probably use it for like a month or two and then they will keep the device very nicely covered in a little box on the shelf and that will collect dust.

So my whole job is to avoid that device from collecting dust. Well, I as like, you know - as somebody who does content acquisition, I actively engage with a lot of creators, a lot of developers, and I encourage them to build consumer use cases in the whole space of health and wellness, sports, gaming, productivity and learning and development. So a lot of like, you know, any, if you, for example, like anybody is a user, right? From you know, a five-year-old kid to an 80-year-old grandmother, everybody is an audience for me.

Any user person that you find in an average Indian household is the person for whom I'm getting content built. And it's really about, you know, catering to any and every use case that is possible through this device.

Vanja Lakic 19:30 Thank you. And is there a difference now with India and the United States in terms of how A R V R is being seen and implemented?

Ishika Gupta 19:38 For sure, I mean, the different market rates altogether. So US is currently dominated in this industry by Meta and they've taken a lead, really a good lead on gaming. So you know, if you ever look at the Oculus Store, it is about 70% games and then the rest of it constitutes some health and wellness and productivity applications.

But India is a whole different market. I mean, there are only two things that really sell in this country. One is Bollywood, the other thing is cricket. So if you know you're able to build some content in these two areas, then you know that it will succeed in this market. If not, it's probably not going to.

So it's like most Asian markets are like that. So for example, South Korea has 5G and they've incorporated like, you know, AR/VR as a major 5G use case since the last five years. Now, of course, they understand that if they want people to use 5G, they need to be able to create use cases that will allow the users to use 5G also.

So what they have done is they have leveraged their K-pop industry, like where they've created virtual dating applications with their K-pop stars. They have got these different stars and actors as an avatar format - They are very big on the cartoon, so there's a cartoon called Pororo which they have created like a little 3D model of and people can click AR photos with.

So it's like an endless and plus like all their like, you know, romance-based shows that are as you know, as the popular on Netflix, they have recreated them in AR/VR also.

So I mean, that's a really great story or like a lesson to be learned from an Asian market because what they have done is that they started with some international content, which was already very popular in the US. But then where they innovated was on the local sort of needs of their audience right.

So they realized that oh K-pop works in South Korea. This is our like, you know, this is what works nationally for us. So this is, and this is what we're going to implement in our country. So similarly, now India is where South Korea was five years ago. And we know that what's really going to scale up in this market is going to be very cricket and Bollywood-focused.

Vanja Lakic 21:35 Ishika, it's been absolutely lovely having you on the show today and I love following your journey from, you know, the upper West side reporting at Columbia Journalism School to, to reporter now being in AR/VR. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Ishika Gupta 21:51 Oh, thank you for having me.