Virtual Reality Branches Off into Specialized Content Niches, Publishers Poised to Capitalize

Mar 23, 2016

Article ImageEven if you missed the Time Magazine cover article last August, weren't able to attend CES 2016, or have overlooked the countless headlines, posts and tweets about it over the past several months, it's hard to ignore the facts: Virtual reality is a reality, and VR technology has captured the awe and imagination of consumers hungry for a disbelief-suspending computer-rendered simulation of the real and the fantastic. And the exciting prospect for digital publishers and electronic content providers both large and small? VR offers viable, affordable content possibilities beyond gaming and simulated thrill experiences, which is where a lot of the early tech investment dollars have been funneled. In fact, it's VR's capacity to seriously infiltrate into offbeat and unexpected niches that has a lot of industry experts paying closer attention.

Case in point: Naughty America is creating adult entertainment VR content-the type of titillating visuals that the company predicts will be viewed by up to 20 million people at least monthly by the end of this year. "VR allows us to come very close to a real physical situation without the difficulty, expense or other barriers preventing us from doing so," says Ian Paul, CIO of Naughty America, who estimates that worldwide revenues of VR adult entertainment could approach $100 million this year-a far cry from the $5.1 billion in projected VR gaming worldwide revenues in 2016, but an impressive number nonetheless. "Millennials expect and demand technology change, and to them VR is simply another opportunity, another tool for play and potentially for work. And as it becomes more sophisticated, more portable and more affordable, it will be embraced wholeheartedly."

Paul adds that travel, education, task simulation, real estate, marketing, fashion and other industries offer tremendous potential for VR, too. As pertinent examples, consider Ford Motor Company's use of VR in its Immersion Lab; University of Louisville psychiatrists employing the technology in cognitive behavior therapy to treat patients with social anxieties or phobias; VR content now being offered with Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue; The Wild Within, Destination British Columbia's new VR experience; Nearpod's VR lessons for the elementary school classroom; Marriott's VR tours of several cities; the Sundance Film Festival's New Frontier exhibition and film series; the nuclear reactor VR simulation at Los Alamos' National Laboratory; USC's Leviathan Project; and CyberCook's Taster virtual kitchen/cookbook.

"VR provides an immersive and interactive experience for users, going a level deeper than any prior technology and one step closer to the real thing. Frankly, I don't think there's any corner of the world that's going to remain untouched by all of this," says Marcos Sanchez, head of global communications for Unity Technologies, who adds that big movie studios like Fox, Warner Brothers and Disney are currently researching/investing in VR content.

Noble Ackerson, CEO of Byte an Atom Research, says VR has matured thanks to strong investment/adoption from industry leaders like Google, Facebook, and Samsung (makers of the popular Cardboard, Oculus Rift, and Gear VR headsets, respectively); better use and business cases resulting in content consumers care about; advances in hardware design and cheaper hardware components yielding cheaper devices; and more streamlined underlying software platforms for developers. "What gives VR a unique advantage to succeed today is the lower cost to deliver content for real business and entertainment use cases," says Ackerson. "Companies like Google and Facebook are democratizing the once price-limiting tools to publish content."

Ackerson insists that VR will not be a short-lived fad like 3-D TV. "Virtual reality will grow into a niche, paving the way for mixed reality where virtual worlds and the real world collide. VR is going to satisfy a niche for consumers and businesses alike, and as more demand for content is realized, the more ubiquitous the hardware becomes," Ackerson says.

Sanchez agrees, saying that, with so many successful VR games and experiences being created for a wide range of applications today, "this can only bode well for the future potential of VR as an essential platform for creating immersive content. It could easily become the most popular method of consuming content."

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)