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CNN Thinks Viewers Are Ready to Experience Presidential Debate Magic in Virtual Reality

Watch the spit fly from Bernie Sanders's mouth as if you were really there.

JStone / Shutterstock

In 2008, CNN treated viewers to a memorable and eerie hologram of pop musician on Election Night. Seven years later the news network is still at the cutting edge of questionable tech decision-making in politics coverage.

CNN says it’s going to let viewers watch the Oct. 13 Democratic presidential debate using a virtual-reality headset, partnering with the VR company NextVR. The required hardware? A Samsung Gear VR, the headset that is powered by technology from Oculus.

Cable news has a storied history of employing unconventional methods to stir the political live-events pot. They range from the mundane (CNN’s and MSNBC’s audience feedback meters) to the cartoonishly bad (Fox News’ sedan-sized newsroom iPad things) to the logical (Facebook’s and NBC’s co-hosted debate in 2012).

Outside of politics, one of the big selling points of VR is that it can offer viewers a simulated live experience that is much more immersive than a simple HD video stream. For example, last year the VR company Jaunt rendered a Paul McCartney concert in virtual reality. And it’s not just new media companies like Facebook that are getting in on VR; this week, Disney led a $65 million funding round for Jaunt.

But while VR is certainly an advanced, promising technology that could (in time) radically alter the media landscape, what do viewers have to gain from super-close-ups of conservatively dressed old white people yelling at one another? In an interview, CNNMoney executive producer Jason Farkas said, “CNN has a long history of bringing viewers as close to the making of history as possible.”

“VR has the ability to transport you to living history more than any other medium ever introduced,” Farkas added. “You get to watch candidates’ interactions and body language toward one another. Some of that gets lost on TV, but in this format, you choose your gaze.”

That sounds forward-thinking! Hopefully it goes better than 2008.

This article originally appeared on

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