2018 Thanksgiving Day Parade in VR and AR

It’s that time of the year again in the States, and you can watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade in VR and AR. As with last year’s parade, there will be 360° cameras along the route. If you’re looking for the 2019 Parade in 360, you’ll find it here: 2019 Thanksgiving Day Parade – 360 Video and Holograms.

With the anticipated cold weather and gusty winds, there will be more incentive than ever to stay home and check out the parade on a VR headset.

Reinventing a 67-year media tradition

On the surface, everything is fine with the Parade, which has been broadcast since 1952. Both ad revenues and the number of viewers are increasing. But behind the scenes, there’s a whiff of desperation. In our deeply connected era, it’s increasingly challenging to have viewers stay for a three-hour event.

There will be split-screens, texts, and promos to keep you from changing the channel. And this year, the host Al Roker won’t be sitting in a booth interviewing celebrities. Instead, he’ll be zipping along the Parade route on a motorized device, with a 360° camera rig. Anything to keep us glued to our large-screen TVs.

Viewership of the immersive live-stream continues to expand. More people have HMDs or know how to use their Smartphones or a web browser to watch it in 360°. According to John Nitti, the chief media officer at Verizon,

. . . more than 9 million people livestreamed the parade—five times more than in its 2016 debut—and watched for an average of more than 7 minutes each. (AdWeek)

It’s an impressive number, and no doubt reflects viewers’ growing familiarity with 360° video. To put it in perspective, NBC averaged 24 million viewers for the entire event, and some 43 million tuned in for part of the broadcast.

It also says something the length of time we can keep people in immersive experiences. Doing more than ten-minutes continues to be a challenge.

Thanksgiving Day Parade in VR and AR

Here is a rundown on the Thanksgiving Day Parade in VR and AR. Immersive tech will have an expanded role this year. All of the videos can be watched here or through your Smartphone or a VR headset.

Balloon preparation in 360°

This year, NBC Nightly News did a short 360° video of the Parade preparations around the Museum of Natural History on the West Side of Manhattan. Watching the balloon inflation is one of our not-to-be-missed events in New York.

It’s more fun than going to the Parade itself.

AR Features with the balloons

After last year’s introduction of augmented reality, this year will see expanded AR features with the Macy’s balloons. With AR Glasses on their way by 2020, retailers are already experimenting with the marketing opportunities that AR offers.

According to Ad Week,

After first introducing AR during its livestream of 2017’s Parade, Verizon wanted to up the ante this year. The “Throwback Thanksgiving” idea came from Verizon’s in-house agency, 140, and then the company worked with Macy’s to determine which balloons the retailer had the rights to and could be featured via AR, including Teddy Bear, Happy Hippo and Happy Dragon.

AR and the Parade in the future

This year will include “throwback balloons” from prior years in AR. I’m trying hard to imagine what the immersive experience of the Parade will feel like in ten years. You could see it going in any number of ways.

You might be able to watch prior versions of the Parade overlaid on the current one. The AR feature could be monopolized by retailers creating an avalanche of marketing messages. Of course, that’s already happening without augmented reality. Or perhaps we’ll be able to add elements in Mixed Reality. Like the Weather Channel, we’ll create our own immersive environments around the floats.

The Parade has always been fearful of stepping into the chaotic intersection of tradition and the new. VR and AR push forward while the Parade itself pushes back. Troy Patterson wrote in The New Yorker,

Advances in the parade telecast do not constitute a march toward progress so much as an exercise in keeping step with new expressions of the status quo.

That’s true for where we are now. But VR and AR will ultimately let viewers create their own experiences associated with the parade. And when that happens, the balloons – and the event itself – will be nothing more than blank canvases for our own stories.

The Parade in VR

But those issues are a bit down the road. Check out the Parade in VR and AR. One of those 360° cameras will be attached to the lead float, Tom Turkey. The parade starts at 9 am Eastern on Thursday, November 22. NBC’s coverage begins at 9 am on the NBC website and on their app (available on iOS and Android).

The best way to view the 360° video stream on Verizon’s YouTube channel.


Enjoy the Thanksgiving Day Parade in VR and AR if you celebrate the holiday. And if not, the 360° live-stream will give you an interesting take on American culture.

Either way, the Parade will continue its march toward a more immersive media environment. You’re watching tradition slowly adapt to a rapidly changing world.