Over the past year, global search interest in virtual reality has grown by 4X. The VR hype is here and it’s real, but how do we convert interest into action? Recent developments in technology, changes in viewing behaviour and solutions in mobile, have pushed open the doors to exciting new opportunities for developing immersive content and brand storytelling. 2016 has truly been VR's watershed year and with the launch of PlayStation VR last month, top of the range headsets are now slightly more affordable (PlayStation VR headsets go for £350 compared to Oculus Rift at £550). This alongside the ease of Google Cardboard (under £10), means that VR content is now more accessible than ever and is fast becoming the norm.
The pressure to create VR experiences that audiences are truly hungry for is on. So where do we start? Here are my top five considerations for entertainment marketers right now.
Right content, right audience, right time
It is essential to consider whether or not your campaign actually requires a VR experience and if so, what sort of level? The key to success is picking campaigns which will have an audience who will want to be engaged in a virtual space, then creating the content that is appropriate to their interests and anticipated engagement levels. Audience research is crucial. When inside a VR headset, the viewer immerses themselves inside the story and designs their own experience. They become the co-director as well as the star of the show, adding a level of engagement to your film trailer, premiere or stunt, which is achievable only with VR. If the content isn’t right for VR, the experience will fall flat for the viewer.
Teaching users who aren’t gamers how to navigate experiences in VR, will also require special thought to design user-friendly content experiences. If your audience can't navigate it, they won't want to use it. The Blair Witch VR experience is a perfect example of a simple UX leading to wide-spread popularity.
One of the key differences with a VR content experience is the level of emotion associated with how the experience feels. The experience must be designed to make the user feel good, as opposed to just being entertained. A core element to this is the use of additional senses, whether it’s the ability to touch an object with your own hands, hear sound through spatial audio, or walk around a physical space with real world elements interfering.
VR is a sensory experience and by stimulating senses beyond vision, we can really connect the viewer to a film or TV show. Whilst we refine CG content for VR, developing gesture recognition allows users to get out of the hand-held controllers and haptics that accurately reflect the experience beyond the buzzing haptic feedback we've grown accustomed to. Developing pressure or hot/cold sensations will help immerse the user further. All this helps to ensure the viewer can be present in the virtual environment.
These considerations can open up opportunities for viewers to fully engage within an environment, such as the smell or sound of a film set or production stage, or enabling the viewer to pick up and interact with poignant objects from a scene or walk down the red carpet to the sound of fans cheering from the side. By placing focus on heightened senses, your content will be transformed into an unforgettable experience.
A common misconception is that VR content always requires huge budgets. As with any experience, the deepest levels of immersion also cost the most to produce and take the greatest amount of time to build, however, there is opportunity to create engaging, quick, impactful VR experiences. The viewer could be sat on a chat show sofa next to a film star during an interview, for example.
There are also opportunities with less complex activations such as 360 video, which is a format highly championed by YouTube and Facebook, offering significant opportunity to engage millions of people. Whilst 360 is not completely the same as VR, content in this format is still undeniably compelling, with freedom to snoop around on-set dressing rooms, explore the set or check out the red carpet before the premiere begins. This content can easily be accessed and watched on the go. Here are a couple of 360 content examples we created for Stanley Kubrick and David Brent: Life on the Road.
One of the most exciting things about virtual reality is how accessible it has become for everyone.
Smartphones have evolved into incredibly powerful tools and the VR capabilities within apps are becoming stronger, more user-friendly and equipped to handle quality content. Headset-wise, Google cardboard has made it possible for audiences at scale to use their mobiles to consume VR content, making them feel like they are live on the red carpet from their homes.
Thanks to mobile, we are now able to take social content for events a step further to create a truly interactive global experience for the viewers home. VR event content can engage and hold audiences all around the world at the same time, enabling them to feel and experience as if they were right there at the event.
Considerations here must start with the viewer’s perspective. What hardware will they use? Will they have headphones? Are they alone in the experience or is there something or someone in there with them? This really is the future of events and premieres and is where engagement is likely to soar in our space.
What better way to immerse your audience in a rich, unique experience than to drop them into the heart of the live action? Facebook’s Oculus VR platform has begun live streaming sports events and there are several YouTube channels which stream live 360 video, opening out every potential for this concept to be taken to the red carpet.
October’s NBA games were streamed directly to VR headsets and live VR feeds are now going to be the standard for subscribers of the NBA TV package. I can see this being something that translates incredibly well to entertainment subscriptions for film and TV, with content offering viewers the opportunity to be placed into the heart of the live premiere, or as a member of the audience at a live Q&A. This could even be taken a step further to live TV episodes, transporting the viewer directly into the set with the action taking place around them.
There is a world of opportunity to create stimulating audience experiences. No other medium can create the levels of empathy, interaction or memories that can be created with VR. Whilst we experiment, let us all remember that the rules are still unwritten, it’s up to us to define the path.