Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality Opens Up a World of Possibilities for Publishers

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Article ImageAlbert Einstein once said that reality is merely an illusion—albeit a very persistent one. Jump ahead to 2017, and that sounds as if it’s a spot-on prophecy, envisioning the rise of the most persistent illusory reality of them all: a virtual one in which the line between truth and fantasy has been blurred to satiate our endless curiosity and fascination.

All it took to set the wheels in motion was the right technology. But moving this train forward will require creativity and ingenuity in the form of immersive content. Therein lies a golden opportunity for digital publishers and content providers who want to climb aboard—and the risk of becoming irrelevant for those who choose not to, say the experts.

The Year Virtual Got Real

2016 was the year immersive content went big time. NBC broadcast the Olympics in 360-degree video. Pokémon GO got millions of smartphone owners out of the house. Virtual reality (VR) made the cover of TIME. And major players rolled out headline-grabbing VR devices, including Samsung’s Gear VR, Oculus’ Rift, HTC’s VIVE, and Google’s Daydream View. The era of affordable and viable VR for the masses had arrived.

But virtual isn’t the only game in town. There’s also augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) vying for consumers’ attention.

VR tech involves a headset, helmet, or other device to immerse a user in a digitized, simulated, often 360-degree environment that looks and feels real without interacting directly in the real world, ideally demonstrated in experiences such as Rec Room, theBlu, and Google’s Tilt Brush. AR games and apps, such as Pokémon GO, use pre-programmed visuals that blend in with the real world—often similar to a live-action movie that also uses cartoon animation. And MR software and hardware—including Microsoft’s HoloLens glasses that display holograms—use the best elements of VR and AR to render an environment that remains grounded in the real world. (This article will refer to all three realities, collectively, as VAMR.)

Thus far, 16% and 9% of Americans polled have tried VR and AR, respectively, per the results of “Seeing Is Believing for Virtual Reality and Immersive Technologies,” a report published in early 2017 by YuMe. Those numbers are bound to grow exponentially, especially when you consider that more than 200 million VR head-mounted displays are expected to be sold by 2020, according to Tractica’s recent report, “Virtual Reality for Consumer Markets.”

Why VAMR Matters

Deniz Ergurel, founder of Haptical, a media startup that publishes VR news, says VAMR signifies a sea change in technology and consumable content—one that will fundamentally alter the way we use computers, communicate, educate, share information, and entertain.

“Every 10–15 years, the technology landscape is reshaped by a major new cycle. In 1980s, it was the PC. In 1994, it was the internet. And in 2007, it was the smartphone. By 2020, the next big computing platform will be virtual reality,” says Ergurel.

Todd Richmond, director of MxR, an MR lab at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies/School for Cinematic Arts, echoes those sentiments. He says that VAMR represents the third new medium for communication and collaboration we’ve had in the last 20 years, after internet and mobile.

“Any publisher who ignored web and mobile likely is gone or has a niche market. VAMR will become a fundamental medium just like those, so ignore it at your own peril,” says Richmond.

Ask Gordon Meyer, director of marketing for YouVisit, a VR content and marketing agency, and he’ll tell you that VAMR has matured past its infancy stage. “While virtual reality has been closely associated with gaming and entertainment, it continues to evolve and impact other sectors,” Meyer says. “The technology and experiences are getting better, more interactive, and more affordable to create. VR now allows us to explore a vacation destination, visit a school campus, house hunt around the world, or virtually test drive a car.”

But more than the tantalizing technology, the emergence of an audience hungry for fresh visual consumables in a vastly untapped medium makes it a particularly exciting time for immersive content. “2016 laid the foundation for 2017 to be the year when the mass market tries, and therefore believes, in VR,” says Vince Cacace, founder and CEO of Vertebrae, which offers a VR/AR native advertising platform.

Many believe VAMR technologies can radically change the way digital publishers create content for and communicate with their core audiences. Additionally, competition should be a driving force that spurs early adoption. “Creating immersive content now will put publishers ahead of the competition and give them valuable experience for future content creation,” says Tim Lynch, CEO of Psychsoftpc, which manufactures VR-ready gaming computers.


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