360 video: BBC Click's innovative storytelling

What is it like producing a whole programme in 360-degree video? We spoke with BBC Click editor Simon Hancock, researcher Stephen Beckett and presenter Spencer Kelly about the thrills and challenges behind 360 filming.

BBC Click has produced the world's first half-hour news magazine programme entirely in 360-degree video. Online viewers can experience it interactively on a headset, tablet or mobile on their YouTube channel, while TV and iPlayer audiences will see an edited version for broadcast

What is 360?

At its simplest, 360 video is a way of recording a complete spherical view of the world around the camera. Viewers can use a mouse on a desktop browser or special apps on their phones or tablets to navigate their view of the scene.

Why did BBC Click do a whole programme this way?

"Last year on Click we did a show where we filmed and edited everything on phone cameras, and this year we wanted to do something similar to that," said researcher Stephen Beckett.

Programme editor Simon Hancock explained that "what we were looking for in our stories were impactful locations which would work well in that 360 space, but also with big stories to tell in that location. So we went to CERN and the Large Hadron Collider and we took our audience on top of the Swiss Alps to follow a team of glacial scientists and their work looking at climate change.

"It’s an amazing location, but once you get bored of looking around this incredible vista you can actually hear what the scientists are up to, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. It gives it a bit of life beyond the pure experience."


Challenges with 360 production

Although Beckett says filming with a 360 camera rig is generally quite easy, because you just set up a camera and leave it, there was one particular challenge in this episode which stood out for him: "Filming on a glacier would be a problem even under normal circumstances. You’ve got the extreme cold to deal with, and we had a limited supply of batteries for our GoPros. As soon as you get on the glacier and start filming, you’ve probably got about 20 minutes before they run out of batteries.

"And you’ve got six cameras, so if you want to change a battery, you’ve got to get your screwdriver out. I don’t know if you’ve tried to unscrew 12 different screws at minus 10 or 20 degrees, but it’s not a pleasant experience."

Beckett says that editing 360 video is also simple, because the image flattens out like a world map and can then be cut like any other footage. 

But while the filming and editing are straightforward, getting the original 360 footage into a format that can be edited adds significant time to post-production. "Compared to a normal Click shoot, there’s one extra step that adds a week or two of extra time, which is the stitching process," says Beckett.

"Normally you’d film something, come back, ingest the footage, edit it, and you’re done. Here, you go and film it, and before you can do anything, before you can look at the rushes, you have to stitch the six shots into one 360 video. That can take anywhere from an hour to two days, and if you’ve done 10 shots, it could be a week before you get to the editing stage."


Presenting in a 360 environment

Presenter Spencer Kelly said working in 360 is much more like presenting live, because you want a full take, not a lot of cuts like in a normal programme. 

"Normally you get lots and lots of takes. You can say a few words, cover it with edits, then say a few more. For this, we felt you really had to do it in one take.

"To make fast cuts would just make people’s heads explode, because they’re supposed to be there in the middle of all this stuff. So that meant I had to do everything in one go – if I was doing an interview or a demonstration, it had to work. And the secret to that is the three Rs – rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

"But it’s really fun and informal in that you can just talk to the camera as if it's a person in the room." 

The future of 360

"What we’re doing for the TV version of the show isn’t something you would normally want to do,’ explains Beckett. "360 footage should really live online, or somewhere you can interact with it.

"But there’s still room for using 360 in a normal programme. Because you get these shots you wouldn’t normally get and it brings a whole new look to a programme. So I think it’s something we’ll see in the future being used as the sprinkles on top, but you wouldn’t want to necessarily do a whole show like we’ve done." 

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