Media consumption and application has always been dictated by the availability of technology. From print media and television to the dawn of the text message and email, each new advancement has been driven by innovation and the mass availability of technology. In recent times, the twin rise of mobile internet and social media consumption has led to a surge in popularity and peer-to-peer sharing of rich video media. In fact, over 90% of shared social media content via mobile is now a video format.
Video sharing itself has also started to evolve and we’re increasingly seeing the emergence of live streaming and broadcast style video. This evolution has been powered by new functionality in social media platforms. Instagram launched its real-time, limited time video format Stories in 2017 and already boasts figures of 300 million+ daily active users. This eclipses the 180 million daily users Snapchat boasts. As technology advances and becomes more openly available and accessible, our consumption behaviour and depth of influence associated with that media changes. Enter the dawn of Virtual Reality.
The state of the VR market
If you’re developing a VR video game or film, there is a growing infrastructure to support your content creation. This, in turn, will fuel larger audiences and more accessible experiences.
According to Adobe’s Nick Babich, “The global VR market, which was valued at about $2 billion just last year, is expected to reach approximately $27 billion by 2022 (those numbers include both software and hardware sales). 2017 was a pivotal year for VR, and it’s moving beyond innovators to early adopters.”
Until now the consumer and general market perception of VR had been that it was too expensive and that there was not enough VR content available to necessitate it. This has started to change, indicated by the surge in market size and projected growth forecast for the next five years.
The VR hardware market firmly established itself in 2017 with some of the globe’s most dominant technology brands putting their foot firmly forward. This means that as a VR game or video creator, opportunities are slowly emerging to take your content to audiences in more affordable, mainstream ways.
Early leaders in the VR platform and hardware market
Mobile giants Samsung and tech behemoth Google have both released mainstream VR products. Google’s, in particular, drew widespread interest as its novelty cardboard goggles successfully introduced consumers to the notion of VR viewing. Google Cardboard is designed to help consumers “experience virtual reality in a simple, fun and affordable way.” It provides immersive experiences for anyone with the viewer and a smartphone.
In addition to Google Cardboard, the Mountain View company has developed Daydream, a high-quality platform dedicated to mobile VR. In January, Clay Bavor, VP, Virtual and Augmented Reality said that Google had been working closely with partners to bring 15 Daydream-ready smartphones to market, further pushing mobile as a more accessible platform for VR consumption.
Google’s tech partner Lenovo has also been hard at work and is developing Mirage Solo, a Daydream standalone headset which Google first previewed at the Google I/O developer conference. Bavor says, “The Lenovo Mirage Solo builds on everything that’s great about smartphone-based VR—portability and ease of use—and it delivers an even more immersive virtual reality experience. You don’t need a smartphone to use it: you just pick it up, put it on, and you’re ready to go.”
As a VR film or video creator, the launch of these new headsets means that soon, there’ll be an entirely new way for audiences to watch your VR content at their own convenience.
Alongside Google’s push into the sector, gaming & VR experience leaders Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive, arguably the most advanced hardware offering to date, continues to grow audience size with record sales figures.
In 2017, research agency Canalys said that high-end headset sales surpassed one million units moved for the first time ever in a single quarter in Q3. The research shows that in the period July-September, Sony sold 490,000 PlayStation VR headsets, Oculus sold 210,000 Rift headsets and HTC 160,000 Vive units. These three brands account for around 89% of the market share.
Finding your audience
Not only do potential audiences now have a greater breadth of choice for their VR technology, but the tech itself is becoming more affordable, particularly on the mobile side. The powerful desktop-based experiences are coming down in price too. After teething problems with touch controllers early on, Oculus Rift has adjusted pricing for its new offering as has HTC Vive.
Vive is widely considered the most technologically advanced VR experience offering on the consumer market at present. It recently reduced retail pricing by 20%.
But it’s not just the technology that’s paving the way for VR content to bloom throughout 2018 and beyond. As the tech advances so too are the platforms by which content is becoming available.
BT Sport jumped on the mobile VR bandwagon by creating its first live virtual reality sports event last June. It gave viewers a front row, 360 degree stadium seat view of the Champions League final. This is a great example of the power of VR when it comes to creating spectacular, entertainment-driven experiences beyond the very popular gaming application.
BT’s offering came through mobile VR, delivered via their BT Sport app. The app is available for iOS and Android, meaning it’s widely available to anyone with a smartphone.
Depending on the level of experience you may be looking to create, be it via mobile or upscaling quality to desktop or even console supported systems, a number of platforms are now available to showcase or sell VR content. Each major hardware player, as you’d expect, has its own store or content sharing platforms for specialist VR content. HTC has Viveport, Google has Daydream, Oculus has the Rift Store and Valve has steam.
Taking VR mainstream
While there are now more VR headsets in consumer homes than ever before, there are also more social VR experiences popping up. VR arcades for example are slowly starting to emerge, with CNBC reporting that a total of eight VR arcades are now open in New York City.
While the first ever VR arcade in London opened as recently as last June, DNA VR has quickly found competition heating up with VR Champions also welcoming gamers through its doors in Harrow. You’ll find
Film too is quickly broadening its horizons and you’ll now find dozens of VR film festivals taking place around the world this year. Medium has rounded up its top 37 here, what’s interesting is that these often aren’t standalone festivals, they’re part and parcel of respected events such as Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca and Cannes.
Exploiting the edge
Gaming and general entertainment experiences dominate the current typical use and demand for VR content, though this is an incredibly narrow view versus the astounding potential at hand.
Alongside the wave of VR infiltrating mainstream entertainment experiences we’re just now starting to witness, expect to see a rise in the use of VR for educational, marketing and business purposes, delivering experiences which transcend what can be taught or shown on a 2D screen.
Think VR University programs, immersive environment construction, virtual modelling and more. The world of VR is opening up and as it progresses quickly out of its infancy we’re going to see some really spectacular content creation and application initiatives, specifically designed to take full advantage of the technology.
The media market has continued to gravitate towards the most immersive experiences possible – giving VR the edge over traditional viewing as evidenced by the addition of VR films to traditional film festivals.
What online video streaming is currently doing for brands across the digital space is undoubtedly going to transfer over to VR experiences as the technology becomes increasingly available and the various content delivery platforms continue to thrive. The key will now be a case of being creative and finding new ways to create content that best suits VR experiences in new and innovative ways. Distribution will be a matter of choice and formality.