Virtual Reality and the future of Media & Entertainment

A version of this piece was originally written for Shane O’Leary’s Tracking ’16 Trends Report which was launched this week. You can download the full report here.

Virtual Reality, despite being an actual reality for quite a while, is still somewhat the stuff of science fiction for the average person on the street. All that might change over the next 12 months though.

In 2016, there will be some serious movement in the Virtual Reality (and Augmented Reality) space in terms of mainstream availability. The consumer versions of the Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive, and PlayStation VR, among others, are all scheduled for release in the New Year. But more importantly, away from these pricey headsets, more affordable and thus more mainstream-friendly options are becoming available to let anyone with a smartphone experience the potential of what VR technology has to offer.

This past November, a collaboration between Google and The New York Times put cheap Google Cardboard VR headsets into the hands of over 1 Million people to facilitate a 360 degree documentary that The New York Times produced on the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Never before has basic VR technology been so widely distributed and so easily accessible to the general public.

From a publisher point of view, this is an area where large incumbents (like the New York Times mentioned above) can flex their muscles and use their resources to produce more powerful content via VR that smaller pretenders might find harder to create.

But with this technology more accessible than ever before, and content producers now starting to actually cater for it, what is really exciting is how different industries might take advantage of Virtual Reality to offer more immersive experiences to their audiences. Just think of the potential that cheap, mainstream VR availability could have on the actual media and entertainment that can be produced across everything from news, TV and movies, video games, and even areas like live music and sport.

Imagine being able to watch your favourite band play a festival half way around the world from the fan pit. Or experience the Champions League Final as if you were sitting in the front row right on the halfway line. All this from the comfort of your own sitting room (and without having to queue up for half the event to get a pint!).

In addition to large media and content publishers starting to cater for VR content, the barriers to this type of content creation itself are beginning to come crashing down, at least in terms of 360 degree video. Devices like the GoPro and Google camera rig collaboration will enable smaller publishers and agencies etc. to get in on the action too. And that’s even without taking into account user-generated content, something that is bound to grab people’s imaginations. With live streaming increasingly accessible and growing in popularity all the time through apps like Periscope, users’ appetite for this type of content, from both a consumption and creation point of view, should help propel the concept forward. Take the 360 degree video of the annual Grafton Street Christmas Eve charity concert from Bono and the lads below as an example of the possibilities (view it on a mobile device to get the gist of it or drag your cursor around the screen to manipulate the view if you’re on a laptop / desktop).

With VR slowly graduating from being a techy niche to scratching the surface of the mainstream, and with content producers finally starting to jump onboard, expect to see some really interesting examples of this over the next 12 months.