By Oisin Lunny
New consumer technologies can seem outlandish, unclear, and even pointless when they are first introduced. Some work and some don’t. When Apple introduced the app store there was a lot of press and industry skepticism, which was quickly forgotten following its runaway success. Google Glass was seen to be innovative but too early, and it generally looked daft, giving rise to the derogatory term of “glasshole”. 3D television gave people a headache.
But we only need to look at the transformational success of the iPhone, launched less than 10 years ago, to see how new tech can capture the public’s imagination, and wallets, if the timing is right.
Virtual Reality (VR) has had a relatively long adoption curve, from its first imaginings in the 1950s. In the late 80s Cyberpunks thought of VR as a potential means for social change, a new art form, and in some cases as an entirely new frontier. The first VR headset, Forte’s VFX1, was announced at CES in 1994, but the viewing technology really took off with the crowdfunded launch of the Oculus Rift headset in 2012. Facebook later snapped up the parent company for US$2 billion, and the first consumer models began shipping in March 2016. Today Samsung, Google, Sony/HTC and LG have also launched headsets or smartphone viewers.
It is in 2016 that VR has really been recognised as a key mainstream entertainment format, with the market forecast to top $70 billion by 2020 according to TrendForce. Richard Wormwell, Head of 360 Production at dock10, recently stated: “360 VR and AR is on the brink of becoming the most exciting new technology development in a generation”.
Hugely successful mainstream entertainment is adapting, Lionsgate studios recently announced that The Hunger Games and Divergent would offer virtual reality experiences. Exciting new startups and production studios are also emerging to meet demand for this next wave of VR content.
Inception has been described as “the Netflix of VR” by serving pure VR entertainment. The company’s founders include the executive producer of “Homeland”, and their mission is to bring immersive VR and 360° experiences to life by creating original “born-for-VR” entertainment content. To mark its launch the company announced a partnership with Boiler Room, the world’s number one community of underground music fans, and unveiled a dedicated channel for Boiler Room’s live music events in VR on Inception’s app. Inception are also hosting VR events with Time Out London, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, the Dali Museum, and many more. As the content is conceptualized, designed and filmed with VR in mind, it heightens the ‘truly there’ VR user experience.
Infinite Wisdom Studios is an independent production and financing company based in Birmingham and London whose goal is to “tell great stories that people need to see”. Their CEO Michael Ford recently warned not to dismiss VR as a niche, citing Netflix as having grown from niche to mainstream dominance in only a few years. His personal motto or “whenevr, wherevr, and whoevr” will be aptly showcased by their hugely innovative collaboration with Vertigo Films, the forthcoming hybrid drama-doc ‘BASE’.
Disruptive Reality is a new studio combining the industry expertise of five member companies Digital Jam Ltd, Revolution Software, Amplified Robot/Medical Realities, Spearhead Interactive and Augusto, all focused on launching a new category within VR – Immersive entertainment.
Disruptive Reality plans to help brands unlock the value of VR, and to create entirely new and unique lines of revenue.
Tanya Laird, CEO of Disruptive Reality and Founder of Digital Jam Ltd, explains: “This could mean anything from creating live action 360 movies that allow a user to feel like they are participating rather than observing, through to escaping from a horror movie in real life thanks to Immersive Theatre techniques. The virtual reality industry is still emerging and ripe for new innovative formats – ones we intend to explore at Disruptive reality.”
Disruptive Reality has already partnered with the world’s largest eSports company ESL UK, MediaCityUK’s innovation hub, The Landing, and dock10, Europe’s leading studio, post and VFX facilities.
It’s not just the entertainment sector that is leveraging the power of VR. Compelling virtual tours can be a huge advantage for any travel and hospitality companies looking to showcase a destination. The immersive nature of VR has also been used to bring important stories to life, as in the case of the New York Times series “The Displaced”, documenting the plight of some of the 60 million people who are currently displaced from their homes by war and persecution.
VR has also been used as a hugely effective tool for fundraising; UNICEF’s VR tours of a refugee camp put the viewer right at the heart of the experience, and generate an emotional response, awakening genuine empathy in the viewer.
So despite the relatively slow start, it looks like consumer VR will be at the heart of mainstream entertainment sooner than we think.