If you’re a virtual reality (VR) disciple, you could be forgiven for having had a few pessimistic moments in recent years – despite a few false dawns, it has failed to reach the holy grail of mass adoption. However, we are finally about to see a huge acceleration in VR’s fortunes. Why? Because 360-degree livestream has just reached creator communities, in whose hands it is likely to flourish.
In this respect, history may well judge Twitter’s launch of Periscope at CES as a landmark in the evolution of live content. The first 360-degree livestreams were showcased by a number of Twitter’s high-profile partners, including Airbnb, and watched by over a million viewers who simply moved their phone or scrolled around a screen to select perspective as if they themselves were there. Future Periscope broadcasters will simply attach a 360 camera to their mobile device, paving the way for even more creative exploration and immersion.
Technically speaking, 360-degree livestream isn’t exactly same as VR, but it certainly shares the same infinite potential. In terms of impact, it’s nothing like 3D, nothing like video, nothing like gaming, nothing like an interactive video experience, a live-stream, a multi-camera, a steady camera, a jib camera, a ‘slow-mo’ shooting, cinemagraphic, stereoscopic, binaural game-fuelled feature film…. (breath…) it’s literally all of those things, all at once.
VR is not just a delivery mechanism but an entirely new format that totally redefines the human experience with recorded (or indeed entirely virtual) realities. So why hasn’t VR rocked your world yet?
It’s not about the hardware: that’s actually the most commercially viable element of the format’s future, as demonstrated by increased sales of Samsung’s Gear VR, Google Cardboard/Daydream, Oculus Rift and others. Your mobile phone takes care of the distribution method. And early adoption issues, such as motion sickness, have largely been tackled through innovative developments. In short, the technology is good, the distribution model is already in your pocket and the audience awaits.
The answer is that until now the content hasn’t been on a par with the technology. While there have been some gems (such a tour of Abbey Road Studios) among the PR stunts and uninspiring test drive experiences, what we’ve been watching just isn’t fit for the medium. In that sense, the technology is its own worst enemy. The phenomenon of ‘open mouth VR syndrome’ (that ‘wow’ moment that occurs whenever anyone first puts on a headset) is still ‘what’s exciting’ from a user perspective, rather than the material it showcases. This has absolutely nothing to do with the sustained excitement and interest needed to engage repeat customers, vital ingredients in any technological breakthrough. This is where VR has so far failed to replicate the success of other fully consumer-established entertainment mediums such as Netflix, DVD, VHS and, of course, TV itself. So far.
So the key to VR’s mass adoption is creative content innovation. That’s why developments such as Twitter’s Periscope’s launch have brought us to a major turning point, since VR will finally become a user-created content ecosystem. Until very recently, the only way you could film something in 360 degrees was to either deploy huge rigs or settle for very poor quality visuals. Now that VR is in the hands of the consumers for whom it should be made, we’re about to see something far more organic - an explosion in creator content. This is technological Darwinism: a new, level playing field in which the cream will rise to the top with truly unique material that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the evolution of 360/VR and the user-owned platforms they’re now populating.
What is certain is that while we haven’t yet witnessed the influx of creative influencers in the same way that, for example, we’ve seen with You Tube, the days of only being able to watch ‘produced’ 360/VR content are over. Of course, brand marketers can also continue to harness 360/VR in more creative ways than we’ve seen so far. There is currently a wealth of opportunity for content creators, digital marketers and brand ‘in house’ studios to get on with developing meaningful, memorable deliverables. But before you rush off and throw a VR camera on stage for an hour-long gig (please, please don’t do it) think about what will truly inspire the consumer, rather than simply mirroring what’s already out there but in yet another format (reference: 3D). Instead, visualise all of humankind’s most refined, story-telling art forms rolled into one, all-encompassing experience and you’ll be on the right track.
By Mark Mitchell, co-founder of Lively
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