Over the past year, global search interest in virtual reality has quadrupled. The VR hype is here – but how do we convert interest into action? Recent developments in technology, changes in viewing behavior, and solutions in mobile have pushed open the doors to exciting new opportunities for developing immersive content and brand storytelling. 2016 was truly VR's watershed year and with the launch of PlayStation VR this past fall, top-of-the-range headsets are now slightly more affordable. This, alongside the ease of Google Cardboard, means that VR content is now more accessible than ever and is fast becoming the norm.
Having worked in entertainment marketing for over 20 years, I have seen a lot of change and VR is something I have been working closely with; the pressure to create VR experiences that audiences are truly hungry for is on. So where do we start?
1. Right Content, Right Audience, Right Time
Does your campaign actually require VR and if so, what 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. 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.
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.
2. Sensory Stimulation
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. 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 the viewer feel present in the virtual environment.
These considerations can open up opportunities for viewers to engage within an environment, such as the smell or sound of a film set or production stage, or enable 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.
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 experiences. The viewer could be sitting 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-degree video, which is a format highly championed by YouTube and Facebook, offering significant opportunity to engage millions. While 360 is not 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.
4. Mobile VR
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. Google Cardboard has made it possible for audiences at scale to use their phones 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 around the world, 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?
5. Live Streaming
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-degree video, opening 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 onto 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. While we experiment, let us all remember that the rules are still unwritten, it’s up to us to define the path.