All of a sudden, virtual reality TV seems to be everywhere. While only 4 million virtual reality (VR) headsets were sold in 2015, that number will jump to 81 million by 2020, says IHS Markit. And content producers are gearing up: Unisphere Research and Level 3 Communications found that 52.4 percent of media and entertainment companies are researching virtual reality.
VR is Here
If you watched the recent debut of Syfy’s Halcyon on TV, you only got part of the story. The “hybrid” series runs on both the cable station and in virtual reality formats on Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR, according to Creative Planet Network.
NBC Sports, Fox Sports, Turner Sports, and CNN are among those that have created virtual reality TV live streams of such events as the Rio Olympics, the Kentucky Derby, the Republican and Democratic conventions, and the presidential primary debates, according to TVNewsCheck.
One advantage VR has over regular television is that the experience is directed by the viewer, writes Luke Kerr-Dineen in USA Today. Viewers can choose where to look, instead of being limited to the perspective the video editor has chosen. He writes, “The experience is simply too fascinating not to draw you in. It’s one that stays with you.” NBA officials said they see VR technology as a way to increase the global audience for games.
Another potential advantage of VR TV is that it can make even familiar forms of entertainment seem exciting, according to VentureBeat. Joe Durbin writes, “Let’s be clear: if VR Noir was a standard television show it would not be considered that great.” The interactivity and the viewer’s ability to make choices within the narrative make the format compelling.
More Work for More Play
The creation of virtual reality TV content is not seamless. Producers must to work harder to create programming for both traditional viewers and those using VR. The Halcyon series includes 10 television episodes and five VR episodes, plus some web-based recaps of the virtual-reality content. They also must make sure virtual reality streams are high-quality; frame rates and resolution need to be higher than for traditional streams, according to the Denver Post.
With that high-resolution quality, viewers can also glance anywhere, so a show has to look visually interesting everywhere. This will be a potentially exciting challenge for directors, set designers, and even actors, according to Paste. The experience must also be designed to reduce the possibility of motion sickness, which is not uncommon in VR content, explains The Guardian.
2D Content in a 3D World
Another trend broadcasters should look out for is watching regular television or movie content using a virtual reality headset. CNN explains Netflix began offering the ability to watch some of its original series using VR rigs a year ago. And Sony’s new PlayStation VR offers a “cinematic mode” for 2D video that simulates watching on a 226-inch display.
According to the MIT Technology Review, watching a conventional video with a headset provides a home theater experience even in cramped quarters. That’s why airlines are exploring it as an alternative to those annoying seat-back displays.
Advertising Gets in the Game
Many big brands have already experimented with virtual reality, so now broadcasters need to explore ways their ad clients can play. For example, virtual reality TV can give shoppers a better feel for a product, according to Google, letting them see items at actual size and on every side.
There are virtual-reality ad platforms such as Immersv and Outlyer Technologies; executives told Marketing Land their platforms could boost the growth of programmatic advertising, letting brands programmatically buy broadcast, digital, and VR ads. The addition of even more data—as well as different kinds of data—could make this a winner.