I hate to start the year with such a passive aggressive headline, but I hope the reader doesn’t take it personally.
Throughout the course of 2015, I went from being ambivalent about virtual reality, thinking of it as tangential to marketing, to a state of full-on positivity and expectation.
Here’s why I think VR skeptics are missing the point.
1. AR is currently a poor experience. People just ‘get’ VR.
AR and VR are certainly not either/or (in fact, Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, thinks the two are set to converge), but contrasting the two is informative in the context of consumer demand for great experiences.
AR has tried and failed to engage the consumer (Blippar, Glass etc.) with no AR product looking like it’s on a hockey stick uptake. That’s because the experience of using these AR products has been incredibly underwhelming.
Contrast that with VR, where even those who experience obviously-limited demo content get fairly excited.
In short, they just ‘get it’, and that’s not something to be ignored.
2. Attention is never a bad thing. Embrace the immersive.
I read an article this morning on a popular tech website that described VR’s biggest strength as its biggest weakness. Being so immersive, the article continues, VR is not conducive to interacting with the world.
The argument is that VR headsets will never be a pervasive ever-present, but will remain as content experiences we use in our homes.
Personally, I’m not sure this is a disadvantage; while smartphones and their peripherals may retain a hold on content discovery, consumer intent and sharing, VR and 360 degree video could be the place where content (and brands) really make an impact.
Let’s face it, many are struggling to get noticed on the smartphone.
3. VR doesn’t have to be a solitary experience.
Another reservation amongst sceptics is the solitary nature of a VR experience, seen as a turn-off for some who are used to shared consumption of media.
Can you see yourself and your spouse in retirement, each donning a headset?
This is a challenge that is currently being tackled with the advent of social VR, allowing viewers to experience content ‘together’.
Whether or not social VR will ever overcome this feeling of solitude, it’s an antisocial aspect of gaming that has always been present but may be amplified by VR.
This solitude is perhaps the most alien part of virtual reality, as anyone who has tried it, or watched someone else in a headset will know.
There is ultimately no technology that can replace the experience of being part of a crowd, as attested by the resurgence of festival culture.
Therefore, I see the solitude of VR as only a strength.
4. VR could eventually challenge the dominance of the TV set.
Even with the advent of trackable digital media, the television is still seen as the most premium space for advertising, and rightly so.
Television is by far the dominant medium in terms of time spent and is also the ‘most missed’ medium, though this is gradually changing.
The charts below from Ofcom are fairly conclusive as to the dominance of TV.
Even if VR can’t solve its social viewing problem, I expect content that is immersive and maintains a lean-back experience (just like TV) may be able to eat significantly into television time.
5. The gaming industry shows how much people value escape.
Gamers pay a decent whack for games and consoles, compared to freeview television and even a video-on-demand subscription.
What this shows is how big the VR content industry could become if the experience is valued as highly.
If the model for VR sits somewhere between gaming and TV, commercials could feature heavily and become premium inventory.
Promotional and sponsored content, as long as the standard is good, would also be highly valued with a medium that will surely suffer less from the old problem of ‘viewability’ (try making a cup of tea with a headset on).