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

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Capitalizing With the Right Content

Publishers seeking a path forward can follow the breadcrumb trail left behind by media companies and brands that adopted the VAMR in some form over the past several months—including The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, the BBC, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, Hulu, Discovery, the Associated Press, and The Huffington Post, whose parent company recently acquired RYOT, a VR studio.

“These publishers recognized the importance of VR by giving their audiences firsthand accounts of stories and events using virtual reality that reach users on an emotional level they can relate to,” says Jordan Edelson, founder and CEO of Appetizer Mobile, a mobile app development company.

Because VR is conducive to immersive storytelling, 360-degree shorts, movies, and documentaries are a natural fit for publishers looking to dip their toes in the VAMR waters. Many news and entertainment publishers now post an increasing array of feature stories, interactive tours, and vignettes in the form of VR videos.

“VR content that’s shorter is better from an experience perspective, as long as it’s not too short,” says Lynch, who recommends dabbling with YouTube’s VR channel, where you can upload VR shorts and establish brand recognition. Facebook offers VR streaming capabilities on its platform too.

Another way to get up and running cheaply and quickly with VAMR is by encouraging citizen journalists to upload and post 360-degree or augmented videos to your site. A new, simple tool to help accomplish the latter is Snap!’s Spectacles. It records 10-second videos to which Snapchat’s AR filters and illustrations can be added.

VR advertisements and brand-promoting videos are another avenue to explore. According to a new Nielsen and YuMe report, VR prompted a 27% higher reaction in users and kept them engaged for 34% longer than traditional ads.

Many publishers are busy building VR/AR mobile apps. The Smithsonian American Art Museum, for example, employs the InstaVR publishing platform to provide an immersive app featuring 360-degree content of its art collection. Whatever initial immersive content publishers choose to pursue, the key is to avoid lagging behind and trust that your followers will be forgiving as you experiment.

“Today, there are relatively few publishing experiences in VR. So if brands want to be ahead of their competitors, this is a good time to do so by creating engaging content to audiences that are ready to try anything,” says Ergurel. “In a few years, when the audiences are more used to this technology, they will be more demanding in terms of quality, and the competition will be much stiffer.” 

Getting Started

Ryan Bell, head of studio at VRScout, says his first recommendation for immersive content beginners is to connect with the VAMR community on social media and share questions and ideas. “Next, get a VR headset for your office and play with it. See what your creative team comes up with,” says Bell. “Then, get a simple 360 camera, which range from $200 and up, so it won’t break the bank.”

Find your legs by focusing on short-form content, which is “both cheaper to produce and easier to market across VR platforms,” says Cacace. “Even brands with smaller budgets can test the mixed reality waters by publishing 360-degree videos on Facebook and Twitter.”

When you’re ready to take immersive to the next level, consider creating a VR mobile app showcasing 360-degree video or, as Cacace suggests, explore sponsoring a recurring event, such as NextVR’s partnership with the NBA to broadcast games in VR or Live Nation’s partnership with Hulu on the new VR music show On Stage.

For publishers willing to take more risks, integrating AR and VR into their content mix more aggressively can be an effective way to stay relevant and innovative, while engaging with customers. But that will require experienced programmers, artists, videographers, and subject matter experts working in concert to come up with compelling material. That means either outsourcing the work, hiring new talent to work in-house, or training existing staffers to handle the VMAR workload.

Building a Team

Jeremy Kenisky, VP of creative for Merge VR (maker of VR Goggles headsets and holographic toys), believes publishers need to recruit outside experts who understand the immersive space. “There are a lot of issues that first-time VR developers don’t even realize. Nausea, vomiting, and motion sickness are common when you don’t pay attention to the details of the experience you’re creating, from physical movement to frame rate and countless details in between,” says Kenisky.

Meyer concurs. “Unless you are able to dedicate significant budget and resources to hiring an in-house team, your best option is to identify an external partner with vast expertise in the field,” Meyer says. “You will need to know if their platform is scalable, what type of support they offer, and what distribution model you’ll use to get eyeballs on the content.”

However, Ergurel cautions against outsourcing everything: “Larger companies should start building their own [VAMR] teams because the initial learning phase is very important to build better products in the future.”

Lynch agrees. “Yes, there is a learning curve to VR content creation, but this can be done in-house with existing staff,” Lynch says. “Like everything else, it’s the story, not the technology, that’s important. If you have good storytellers, that will translate to VR.”

Indeed, the talent you rely on should be able to spin a good visual yarn and create compelling experiences. “Businesses tend to lack tactical patience and want a quick win and fast return on investment. But taking a new medium from curiosity to necessity takes time and thoughtful effort,” Richmond says. “New interactions need to be created. New ways of human interaction need to be explored. With VAMR, we need to be more thoughtful in our adoption and development and try to avoid a future with digital regrets.”

What’s Ahead on the Virtual Horizon

Many expect bigger, brighter times ahead for immersive content. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that VR will rule the roost. “Virtual reality will get huge adoption in 2017 and will continue to be a stable, successful, and lucrative market for a lot of people. Ultimately, however, AR will be a bigger market,” says Kenisky, who anticipates a far-off future in which we’ll beam lasers into our eyes to consume immersive experiences.

Richmond forecasts that it will take up to another decade before VAMR is truly integrated into society, but not before the current VR bubble bursts and is reimagined in some way. “VAMR won’t go away. It will become part of the fabric of our world,” he says.

Meyer insists that we’ve only skimmed the surface so far on VAMR’s potential, particularly in the realm of marketing. “Soon enough, VR will link experiences together to create a massive explorable world,” says Meyer. “Instead of looking at a flat image of a product on a website, you will be able to see products in a 360-degree environment where you can more closely examine it and make a more informed purchase. Like the product? You will be able to purchase it in VR and AR directly inside the experience.”

While Ergurel believes the popularity of immersive experiences on the more-convenient and accessible smartphone may ultimately lead to the slow death of VR headsets, he’s convinced that VAMR is here to stay. “It offers two main features that no other medium can—it can take us to places we’ve never been, and it can help us experience things we’ve never seen before,” says Ergurel. “In the next 5 to 10 years, every brand will have an existence in the virtual space, in some form or another.” 

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