A Virtual Reality Check Through the Lens of Industry Insiders (Part 1)

The many ways VR has been evolving.

VR Six Flags Ride CroppedVirtual reality’s brief history has resembled a roller coaster ride, much like the live action experiences it provides to consumers wearing VR headsets. There’s no rulebook since VR is a relatively new medium. But lately VR has been making progress on many fronts.

“Companies participating in VR want to extract value from the press. But now VR isn’t just stunts anymore; it’s real content,” said DJ Roller, co-founder of NextVR. He was speaking at Digital Hollywood’s recent Media Summit in New York, and was referring to VR-enabled news stories, ads, videos and films.

Notable media brand examples include The New York Times’ VR projects using Google cardboard, SI’s swimsuit issue and the Wall Street Journal’s 3D Nasdaq stock chart showing the all-too-real ups and downs of the financial markets.

Below are 5 takeaways from the Media Summit for those brands or clients considering a venture into VR’s dynamic world.

1. VR has moved beyond its sketchy past

Virtual reality had a bad launch the first time around, with perceptions hindered by the rise and fall of 3D TVs and movies. But now VR’s prospects are unfolding every day. “VR has made tremendous leaps and bounds in the past two years, though we’re still waiting for many elements to come to fruition, especially new products about to launch,” said Aaron Luber, head of partnerships at Google Cardboard.

Samsung VR Tunnel1 Cropped2. There’s a large untapped audience to reach

“Virtual reality is a new experience that viewers can’t get elsewhere in their real lives,” added Luber. Currently many techies and early adapters experience virtual reality, while a mainstream audience hasn’t yet materialized.

For VR to scale, Niko Chauls, director of applied technology at USA Today Network, sees the need to deliver VR devices and get positive experiences in the pipeline so users want to return. To that point, Samsung has created approximately 400 pieces of VR content of varying lengths.

3. VR appeals across categories, especially services

“Virtual reality is a medium unto itself,” said Sydney Levin, executive producer at New York Times’ T Brand Studio. To date, VR demand has largely been driven by gaming, animation and R-rated content. Given their strong storytelling focus, sports and journalism have also proven their VR legitimacy. Looking ahead, many other industries will fuel VR’s growth, particularly those that are experience or service-based, namely travel, real estate, sports and education.

4. Major media outlets are experimenting with VR

“Journalism is a compelling use of VR technology,” observed David Chavern, president and CEO at Newspaper Association of America. He said they’re still figuring out the best use cases, such as real-time news or fun.

The New York Times has offered both serious and entertaining VR content. It established T Brand Studio with a 70-person staff focused on VR. Jake Silverstein, New York Times Magazine’s editor in chief, outlined his take on their 3 VR projects to date: (Key lesson: don’t over-think it)

  • Global Migrant Crisis: generated widespread empathy for the displaced refugee children by taking viewers to the heart of the story.
  • Walking New York: gave readers an engaging personal perspective of French artist JR’s creative process.
  • Take Flight: provided a 360 degree perspective of 10 famous actors who appear together in their studios and during helicopter flights over Los Angeles.

Virtual Reality25. VR’s portfolio of gear is rapidly expanding

VR equipment, ranging from basic headsets that connect to smart phones up to advanced gear with high resolution screens, has improved markedly. “With smaller devices we’re seeing the democratization of the medium now,” said Peter Corbett, founder and president at Click3x. Case in point: The New York Times distributed Google Cardboard headsets to select New York Times’ subscribers, to be used along with its free VR app.

Samsung Gear VR, powered by Oculus (a Facebook brand), plans to introduce new chip technology, Microsoft is about to launch a VR product and no one knows yet what Apple is planning in the VR space. In any event, consumer curiosity and access will both increase.

(First image courtesy of Six Flags Magic Mountain)