Following every cool new trend comes the expectation that it’s going to go “mainstream.” Artificial intelligence threatens to replace jobs, social media takes up 30% of time spent online, and more than half of U.S. households connected to the internet now subscribe to at least one streaming video service. But unlike these tech advances that have proven to be valuable and have taken off, VR is much further behind, if on the path to mainstream at all.
Yeah, VR got a lot of hype initially. Tech giants like Google, Samsung, and Microsoft couldn’t create their version of a headset fast enough to top their competitors’. Even Facebook jumped on the VR bandwagon when it acquired Oculus Rift for $2 billion last year. And then you have predictions that VR and AR will hit $150 billion in revenue by 2020. With a history like that, it’s hard to believe it might not live up to the project expectations so let’s take a step back and look at why.
Capturing VR content such as 360 video became easier and cheaper thanks to cameras like the Samsung Gear and the Nikon KeyMission 360. However, the technology hasn’t created the revolution that say live video or Snapchat has. Live video opened new doors for sharing content across many digital platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, to name a few – giving users a new way to connect and engage with one another. Having the ability to cook your favorite meal and share it live, or turn yourself into a voice-changing cat with a geofilter is our new reality. These technologies are mainstream.
VR is inching its way into the mainstream, but ever so slightly, and primarily in the gaming industry. Owning a VR headset is still in the extremely early adoption stage, partly because it’s so expensive to buy, but also because the headsets are not a casual, everyday accessory that you can wear and play around with while you’re hanging out in the park. You are fully committing to watching content when you slide that headset over your eyes.
From a marketer’s point of view, VR does offer cool new ways to connect with consumers, but marketers still face some major hurdles. To start, it’s expensive and requires a lot of work. VR is more like a theatrical performance than a short video, which means marketers and creative professionals need to do a great deal of work to get an experience up and running. It’s not as simple as pulling together or recording a few quick cuts, close-ups, or any other video approach to create visual story because the whole point of a virtual experience is to put people in an environment they otherwise wouldn’t be able to be in. That means it needs to be built from the ground up, and it’s more about creating an entirely new environment and on-screen acting than it is with film making.
Don’t get me wrong, marketers can and do still use the novelty of VR to their advantage. VR headsets pop up in public arenas like trade shows and sporting events to lure people in that are walking by. To many, putting on that headset is the first time they’ve ever experienced VR through a device, so it’s an exciting opportunity that people jump at. The key is that marketers need to have something compelling to share if they are going to take that leap into VR.
When you look at the last 12 months, augmented reality is taking bigger strides and shows more promise of fitting into our everyday lives. Applications like Pokémon Go delivered $600 million in mobile revenue in its first three months alone, making more money than the entire VR games software market in 2016. Unlike VR, AR works its way into everyday life, without requiring a giant mask that takes you almost fully out of the real world. While there is still plenty of opportunity for VR, it’s more likely that people will be interacting with AR, whether they’re capturing Pokémon from their own driveway or trying on a tattoo before it’s permanent.