Advertising Week: A VR Perspective

My key takeaway from the “Immersion & Escapism – Is this the Future of Video?” panel session at Ad Week New York is that the industry conversation needs to move on. It should no longer be about “VR versus 360˚ video,” one-off content or overcoming hurdles – we should start treating immersive video as a regular part of integrated campaigns.

Where is the VR market today?

Gartner’s Hype Cycle suggests that VR has finally emerged from the “trough of disillusionment” and made it to the “slope of enlightenment”. The panel discussion reflected this. While issues such as the cost of headsets were raised, we also heard about fantastic examples of VR being used in ways that traditional, flat video could never achieve.

We heard views about the categories that are performing particularly well and lend themselves to VR, such as sports or medicine. Miheer Walavalker from LiveLike cited a Buffalo Wild Wings and Fox Sports VR experience for Turner’s ELeague. This experience enabled users to order real-world food from Buffalo Wild Wings while still inside the virtual reality sports game.

When it comes to making VR a more regular medium to work with, panelist Sarah Backman from Horizon Media took the view that the best approach for brands is to sponsor or align themselves with content that will naturally get viewed rather than focusing on creating one-off expensive projects. Most of the panel agreed that it can be hard to show return on investment for full-VR experiences. So, how can brands build immersive experiences that deliver now?

While the market for VR is being explored and a truly mainstream audience grows, 360º video can provide a solution. It offers the immersive experience of VR, while also boosting engagement rates. Research shows it generates five times higher click-through rates than standard video. Importantly, it’s easily measurable, so marketers can justify the spend.

Creating a valuable VR experience

It’s clear that VR and 360º content have the potential to offer far more valuable experiences, because the content is richer and also because it provides a much greater canvas for engagement. It also gives marketers the opportunity to drive repeat viewership, by presenting a different experience each time it’s watched.

The examples used in the panel session showed how far the medium has come in terms of interactive experiences. However, as with planning any campaign, brands should be cautious of embarking on highly expensive one-off content. Immersive experiences should be fully integrated into campaigns and should demonstrate ROI in the same way as other content.

It’s time to kill the apps

To build an audience for immersive video it’s necessary to remove friction and create an ecosystem for the medium. It needs to be easy to upload, share and engage with. We’re working alongside companies such as Facebook 360 to address this by supporting a global creator community and providing the tools to upload and create 360º video content easily.

The panel session covered the notion of “killer apps” for VR, but what we need is an “app killer”. There are so many problems with apps  and they cause a lot of friction for the user. For VR to move forward we need to shift to web VR as a concept, meaning users don’t have to download an app or use special technology to view VR content, which can act as a barrier.

The industry needs to view technology as an easy enabler for a VR experience, and make it easy for campaigns to connect with a truly global audience.

The future of VR

The panel believed that full VR would take off in five years’ time – going as far to say it will become as ubiquitous as smartphone usage. VR has proved it has many powerful applications, but there’s still a way to go before it becomes a fully pervasive medium. My view is that there’s no need to wait. Treat VR as a natural part of campaigns. Use full VR where it makes sense but make it easy to bring wider audiences into an immersive experience by using 360º video as part of a fully-fleshed campaign.

Chris Helm

Co-founder and COO at Blend Media

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