Virtual reality can be a powerful vehicle for brands to reach consumers, but accessibility and distribution remain key obstacles in the medium’s early days.
That was the big takeaway from Wednesday’s “Leveraging Immersive Video for Brand Storytelling & Audience Engagement” panel at the Northside Festival, an annual event in Brooklyn that, in addition to showcasing up-and-coming music artists, focuses on emerging technology and innovation in media.
Discovery director of branded experiences Kyle Ranson-Walsh, who is responsible for selling and developing branded VR content, pointed to the “last mile” challenge of getting consumers to adopt viewing technology.
Discovery hopes to address that issue by distributing its 360-degree video content across its wide range of platforms, including so-called “flat” spaces like linear TV, in order to reach a broader audience and create excitement about the format. Still, he admits that requires tinkering to fit each individual platform.
“I want to put the same piece of content everywhere, but the same piece of content doesn’t work. I’m being honest. I’ll sit brands down and say, ‘Let’s do something really special for headset and then let’s put text on it and do something a little different when it goes into social, so we’re still leveraging those dollars.”’
He noted about 80% of views on Discovery’s 360-degree content, which includes creative for Toyota and Gillette, come via social platforms. Vimeo director of product management Sara Poorsattar also acknowledged some issues including slow adoption of headsets and the fact that viewers generally max out at 20 minutes of use at a time.
“We’re sitting here having pretty advanced conversations about VR and 360, but the reality is we are in the very small minority. We know that for it to really take off, it’s about making sure we don’t create this huge technology gap.”
She added VR content producers haven’t yet figured out how to make the headset viewing experience a social/sharable one. She believes, however, that Apple’s foray into VR, which the company announced earlier this week at its World Wide Developer Conference, has the potential to open the floodgates in terms of getting the technology into users’ hands.
Despite the challenges, the panelists remain adamant that the medium is worth pursuing because of the impact its immersive content has on consumers.
Eko pres/COO Jim Spare, whose company focuses on creating interactive content (both VR and non-VR), said its content generally produces a 200-300% retention rate, meaning the average viewer watches it more than once. He believes interactive VR content—in which the user influences the environment or outcome—represents the “next wave of brand storytelling.”