The State of the VR Experience- 2nd in an Hourglass Technologies Series
Part II: 360o Videos Skewered
In our last post, the first of this series, I addressed the overarching challenges and opportunities within the VR and AR space with attention given to the need for a content forward strategy. Now I will talk more about content relative to the individual platforms and how to grab attention, engagement and drive the user experience. As content has grown increasingly abundant and immediately available, sustained attention is the most crucial factor in the consumption of information and it is that which poses the greatest brand challenge in our estimation. Marketers face the challenge of making an impression in this new attention economy. Consumers are on the verge of experiencing content as they never have before through VR and AR and as we teed up in Part I, to retain and sustain these users requires a compelling experience and enriched content that is specifically created with those platforms and their usage in mind. Let’s unpack virtual reality and discuss the what, how and could be’s of this media channel. In particular, I want to delve deeper into how video is used (or misused) inasmuch as marketers tend to port 2D into what is a 3D space and miss all of the true engagement and interactive opportunity that IS the promise of Virtual Reality. 360o VIDEO Let’s begin with what is currently labeled as 360° video. I will start with 360o video because that seems to be the most common, and in fact, usually the first VR-like experience to which consumers are introduced – commonly experienced via a VR headset. Watching a passive video through a head mounted display (HMD) is not a virtual reality experience and, as such, should not be confused or labeled as VR. There is nothing virtual about what they are experiencing today…well, not yet. No secret here, passivity is not the hallmark of an immersive and true VR experience. Not to condemn 360o video, it is a far more powerful tool than TV and certainly greater than any social ads you may be placing – so please don’t discount its effectiveness in selling your brand or service. And here’s another thought…whoever said it needs to be passive? This is where the lack of understanding about this platform lies. It’s all a matter of the right production values to ensure this adolescent form will be effective for you. Today, you see many live events and tours all available in 360o video, BUT, why is the ground not reverberating with excitement and the uptake on VR headsets lagging all previous projections? Simply stated, for the most part, the experiences are poorly executed. They lack vital interactivity. User Experience is paramount. Let’s face it, most of today’s 360o content is flat, boring and missing the engagement and interactive value of what a true “virtual experience” should be. Today, production companies are taking the same content values that you would otherwise be watching on a television screen and ineffectively “porting” that so-called experience to virtual reality devices. If we examine the gaming industry for a moment, porting video games from gaming devices to PCs and mobile simply did not work. It’s a different user experience based upon the device itself. In order to be successful, any experience needs to be tailored to the device to exact the maximum user experience for each platform. The same holds true for authentic VR and 360o content. The consumer using a VR headset is shut off from the world. Their time commitment is necessarily short as a result of that. Why would we assume that millennials, who get the jitters if they don’t check their phone on average 157 times per day, really want 360o live or streamed experiences that last an hour or so? If we are going to ask consumers to put on a VR headset or a VR viewer and shut themselves off from their phone, their family and society, then we had better be giving them an incredible experience that makes isolating them from the world all worth their time. 360o live and streamed events seem to be getting a lot of attention and we note that some think it’s about putting a camera in the audience or on a stage and seating the consumer in the audience, and “Voila!” After all, it’s shot in 360o, so build it and they shall come. NO. We should not expect consumers to be turning back and forth or side to side when all of the real action in that experience is “really” happening on “stage” and “on the court” in front of them? Oh, and by the way, if you have the 360o camera chasing a ball or swirling above audiences in 360o and you better bring along a big bucket to catch the contents of the viewer’s last meal. So, here’s an unabashed plug…Hourglass has a solution for all of this. It’s not just how you think virtually, it’s how you execute the perfect experience for your brand or content within the context of the user experience. Let’s get back to the core dilemma of how marketers need to rethink 360° video while considering user experience…. Here are Five Simple VR Rules: 1. Focus on short-burst session times 2. Film for platform specific experiences 3. Make it Interactive and Actionable 4. Where possible, introduce elements they can never experience in the real world 5. Have a purpose beyond utilizing a shiny new object. We address session time by creating 360o engagements that are short and compelling, leaving audiences wanting more. Now, some live events require long times, so we have a way to account for that. We address platform relevancy by giving the audience a reason to want 360o and bringing to life 360o video content that is actually interactive through user interfaces that allow the consumer to get far more than a passive lean back performance. At Hourglass, we feel strongly about delivering interactive 360o content and experiences. This is how you deliver engagement. I believe strongly that 360o video has a chance to allow brand marketers to create compelling and engaging campaigns and experiences that will leave audiences in awe – those “WOW” moments. And make no mistake, VR is more than a shiny new object…it’s the chance to engage your audience like never before and allow them to discover the depths of your brand or services. And more importantly, VR executed properly, can be something users want to share with friends and family members. – turning the solitary experience into something shared. Going beyond 360o video, and looking at true VR, it is important to remember, that when a user puts on a VR headset, they are seeking an experience that escapes reality. This has always been the premise of VR: the experience is not about shutting off and being shown something they could very well have seen on TV but now in a 360° video format. It’s not good enough for live events and it’s certainly not good enough for your brand. But we will talk about true Virtual Reality in the last instalment of this series. Consider this: While some users may want to escape reality, most really want to be entertained and enthralled. They want to see what they cannot see in the real world – to have a unique experience maybe even better than they would get at a live event. We need to take them away…give them experiences they will not forget…and not simply be a proxy for the real world. VR should allow users to do and experience the things that they simply could or would not do in real life. VR is about going beyond reality and delivering surreal and awe-inspiring impact. If you have fun with this platform your audience will as well, and they shall be grateful. Make it interactive and engaging. Make it immersive and “social” and press the envelope to deliver fantastical 360° content that makes your customers want more. That’s what we are doing for our clients. In thinking about my old industry, beauty and fashion – there are so many opportunities to engage consumers, which brands are simply missing out on. And this extends not just to consumers, but to B2B too. I recall at one of the large cosmetic companies I worked at, we spent millions of dollars a year training stylists and store personnel on the newest color selections, hairstyles and looks. We could now save tens of millions of dollars a year by simply implementing easy to use VR solutions that transform the manner their products are represented by the people they depend upon for a sale. This goes for Health Management, Real Estate, Education, Automotive, DIY, and Retail as well – all of which can utilize interactive 360o in an omni-channel approach. We are not just talking linear video…we are talking about fully interactive experiences that can be used on any mobile device, with or without a VR headset. Back to an earlier point…the new devices that are on the market and on the horizon. The current assumption by marketers is that for true VR content, a consumer needs to have a clunky head-mounted display – which couldn’t be further from the truth. While the head mounted display fully immerses a user, it also shuts them off from the world forcing them to be quite immobile. Rather, anyone can use and view this content on the billions of smart phones that exist in the world today. You see, 360° video can be experienced on your mobile phone – through it’s browser or as a native app you download, all through mobile VR viewers you attach to your phone. Marketers trying to dodge the applicability of VR due to the installed base, are seriously missing the opportunities. The only folks that need to worry about the “install base” are the hardware manufacturers that are building and selling what traditional VR devices. We know that this medium is the most engaging channel we could ever wish for, void of all distractions to the consumer. No multitasking, no ad-blocking, no fast-forwarding, no blind post. Possibly the strangest viewpoint I’ve ever heard by a brand was that they didn’t see the need to promote on VR or use it as a tool because they weren’t selling VR products. Hmm. Not even sure how to respond to that. So, you shouldn’t use TV as a tool because are you not selling TVs or film content? You shouldn’t use Social because your product is not a social tool? What does that even mean? Everyone should be looking at ways to use this versatile, mobile platform. The sad truth is that most brand marketers still believe that consumers needs to be tethered to some device to deliver great experiences. Not correct. What we can do with 360o video and VR is powerful stuff and your brand and your business will be left behind without a comprehensive mobile strategy – yes – all of this is really about mobile - the mobile device your consumers are engaging with every day. And one last point, the misconception about the high cost to produce quality, engaging 360° video experiences….it just isn’t so. I find that the smoke and mirrors around what is really a typical post-production editing process has led to price gouging simply because buyers don’t know what’s happening behind the curtain. As experts in this space, my team at Hourglass Technologies has the know-how to deliver at surprisingly low cost without hidden charges and margins. If you are paying more for 360° video than you are for typical HD then you need to call us. And if you are still thinking about producing passive 360o video, then you REALLY need to call us, because you need to make it interactive. That’s it for 360° video and VR for now. Stay tuned for our next article, Part III of this four part series discussing Augmented Reality---which, in our estimation, is the most exciting (and accessible) platform available today!