The New York Times is giving Google VR headsets to more than a million subscribers

Hot off the presses.
Hot off the presses.
Image: AP/Invision/Andy Kropa
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The Gray Lady is moving into virtual reality. The New York Times announced today (Oct. 20) that it would ship more than 1 million Google Cardboard headsets to its print and digital subscribers, so they can watch new VR videos that it’s creating.

The Times is working with Google to distribute the headsets to print subscribers ahead of the weekend of Nov. 7, and some digital subscribers will also be able to redeem a headset via an email promotion code. The New York Times Magazine will be running a virtual reality feature that weekend, entitled “The Displaced,” detailing the lives of refugee children who are uprooted by war. The movie will be available in the Times’ new app, NYT VR, which hits app stores Nov. 5.

Google’s Cardboard viewer system is meant to be a cheap, easy-to-use VR system that works with just about any smartphone. Unlike forthcoming immersive VR systems from Facebook’s Oculus and HTC, Cardboard essentially just a smartphone strapped very close to your face. But unlike the more intense systems on the horizon, it’s light, easy to operate and hard to break. Google has put the designs on its website, along with links to buy pre-constructed VR devices that cost about $20.

The Times-Google pair-up is a relatively inexpensive way to get an innovative storytelling format in the hands of the paper’s Sunday subscribers, who tend to be wealthy (median household income $176,000, according to the company’s media kit) and relatively old (median age 55). GE and the automaker Mini are sponsoring the project.

The Times, which announced earlier this month that it now has over 1 million digital subscribers, also plans to release at least two further VR features, as well as host additional VR content on its YouTube page.