Thesis: The concept is very appealing and the market has major potential, but Hollywood needs to invest heavily before it sends Virtual Reality to the back burner like it did with 3-D technology.
If you remember playing with a ViewMaster as a kid, peering into a plastic viewer and experiencing 3D locales of far away places, you have an early sense of what’s to come over the next year. Similar in concept, the new technology will allow you to experience these 3D interactive landscapes. Something that seems to have been “coming soon” for a long period of time is gaining major traction, with Facebook purchasing the startup Oculus VR for $2 billion last year – largely due to the evolution in the technology. Now the only thing standing between the consumer and virtual reality is as simple as a smartphone, a few apps, and special viewers starting at just $25. There will be two main technologies for VR viewers, the first being a handheld device similar to the ViewMaster and the second being similar to ski goggles with a strap made for longer exploration. While the resolution wont be fully realistic and current content includes sitting courtside at an NBA practice, taking a tour of the arctic between Canada and Greenland, and simple games like flying a jet, serious efforts are now being made to prepare immersive content for Christmas releases of the goggles. The concept is very appealing and the market has major potential, but Hollywood needs to invest heavily before it sends Virtual Reality to the back burner like it did with 3-D technology.
The difficulty with emerging markets like these is getting consumers to adopt the technology, which stems directly from the available content upon release. The video game market for example would have failed miserably if the content and games were not meeting the expectations of consumers. Chris Edwards, chief executive of the LA-based firm Virtual Reality Co. says, “The gauntlet has been thrown” as they have been quietly working on immersive entertainment offerings. Started by four Hollywood players, VRC is working with directors such as Steven Spielberg and Scott Rudin to make sure this technology doesn’t phase out. Some of the current projects include 10-15 minute immersive segments where they can investigate near-future crime scenes, a documentary following NFL running back Jerome Bettis, and a theatrical feature. These are just a few of the many to come, but Hollywood has plenty of room for development and expansion in content as the technology evolves. The opportunities and plans are expansive, including: “virtual courtside seats at a Los Angeles Lakers game, re-creations of the State of the Union address from inside the U.S. Capitol, tornado-chasing across the Plains and front-row seats as Mick Jagger sings “Satisfaction.”” The technology could even be utilized in non-traditional settings using them for school lessons on geography by taking students to the landscape they are learning about, business trainings by simulating experiences or situations, and as long as the content is there initially – consumers will adopt the technology. However the major players fear this ghost of 3-D within the virtual reality market. After Avatar’s release of 3-D, there was an oversaturation of movies with higher ticket prices and subpar quality – phasing the concept out over time. The concept itself has massive potential and as long as the production of content matches the demand for the devices, virtual reality will be the next big hit for the long haul.