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MBI’s Media Summit 2017: Five things we learned about VR

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Billed only as recently as a year ago as the media of the future, it’s clear that Virtual Reality has evolved from sci-fi tech to a reality that’s here to stay. As with all new technologies, however, the industry is still very much going through a period of trial-and-error, as media owners and brands seek to use VR as more than just a PR stunt. To help us take stock of where VR is and where it’s going, Media Summit hosted a VR session featuring speakers from Rewind, a VR creative and digital production studio; Blend Media, a VR creator network and library; and Samsung, which manufactures one of the most successful VR headsets. Here are the key things that we took away from the day.

 

1.) So far, men are the core audience of Virtual Reality

 

Insight from Samsung revealed that 47% of males are interested in owning a VR device and 94% of those who already own one are male. Perhaps these figures aren’t so shocking when you find out that the number one form of content at the moment is gaming. Blend Media CEO Damian Collier was quick to note that women are the predominant viewers of its own VR content, which is dominated by scenic, nature videos. Clearly there is room to grow the female audience within these genres.

 

2.) Consumers still need to differentiate between content and medium.

 

One of the key takeaways from the discussion came from Sol Rogers, founder of Rewind, who point-blank told the audience that consumers back away from VR because of bad experiences with early fully immersive VR technology and exposure to bad content. Winning new converts to the tech requires a way to combat those who say “I’ve used VR before” as an excuse for refusing to watch a video. Rogers likened this to saying “I’ve watched TV before” when being asked to watch the latest BBC drama.

 

Chief among those who are striving to bring VR to the masses is Facebook. It acquired Oculus Rift for an astonishing $2bn just two years after the VR start-up’s founding and recently entered into a strategic partnership with Blend for content. The new content partnership has potential to bring VR to a wider audience and to help change the minds of those who think they know what Virtual Reality is all about.

 

3.) Brands need to move beyond using VR to make ‘World’s first VR [insert basically anything]’

 

Rogers asserted that brands are now at a point where they are ready to experiment with VR. However, he warned that brands shouldn’t make an ad in VR just because they can, the content must be meaningful on the platform and, ideally, should benefit from the media choice. Rogers pointed to his agency’s collaboration with BBC Learning, BBC Science and BBC Digital Storytelling as a great example of what VR can be. The result, ‘Home – A VR Spacewalk’, is a 15-minute immersive virtual reality experience allowing users to get a sense of what it’s like to be an astronaut at the International Space Station. Here VR is used to offer an experience that 2D just can’t match.

 

4.) More ways to measure VR’s impact on the bottom line are needed

 

Rewind measures the success of its VR experiences on views. Rogers acknowledged that because VR is still somewhat a novelty, content will be viewed more than if that content were available in traditional 2D formats. But how does this translate into purchases? Clearly a set of established metrics is needed to penetrate this information.

 

Despite the lack of clear success benchmarks, brands are still prepared to bet on VR as Adidas, Glenfiddich, Ikea, Jaguar, the WWF and other big brands have proved by releasing VR campaigns within the last year.

 

5.) The future is an open field

 

Sol sees a successful future for VR relying on the invention of less-clunky hardware. One only needs to look to Snapchat Spectacles to see the truth in this. Reducing the size of the VR headset will widen appeal and opens up new opportunities in user generated content. With tech giants such as Google, Samsung, Facebook, Sony and HTC investing heavily, VR has received the validation it needs to go from sci-fi future to a technology which is constantly evolving in real-time.

 

Marvin Harrison of Samsung put it best when he mused that VR will succeed when only good content sees the light of day. In other words, the importance lies in not just having a vast library of content to access, but also in the curation of content that allows only quality experiences to get out. Those planning their next foray into VR should understand the need for a library of content with the breadth of iTunes, but with the curation of Netflix.

 

Of course, this does make total sense. VR is in your face, literally. Bad content on other forms of media is tolerable. A horrible ad comes on TV? Just change the channel. A YouTube pre-roll incorrectly targeting you? No problem, just switch tabs until it ends. There is no escaping a bad VR experience, no way to minimise its impact. And this is why the need for good, meaningful content will lead VR’s future.

 

The possibilities are seemingly endless. VR in sport could allow family members living on separate continents a way to watch a live football match together without the need for a plane ticket. In advertising, it could allow us to connect to a brand we never thought we shared anything in common with. With such an open-ended future, VR is sure to continue to gain momentum in becoming a media of choice for advertisers.

 

For more insight, visit our blog about MBI's Virtual Reality Creative Summit held last year.