The Virtual Reality Gold Rush: Part Three
In this final instalment of our three-part series, We Are Social’s Managing Director in Singapore, Don Anderson, looks at the future of virtual reality and live events, journalism, social sharing and, dare we say it, porn.
Forecasts vary when it comes to the potential annual revenue from the consumer virtual reality industry. Some estimates top US$5.2 billion per year by 2018 off the back of device and software sales, with much of the growth occurring among the kids, tween and teen segments.
From education through to medicine, the applications for this technology are seemingly endless.
In medicine, virtual reality may allow for the treatment for specific phobias – letting someone stand on a ledge to combat a fear of heights or getting on a plane to combat a fear of flying.
It has the potential to change the traditional TV experience, particularly live events from sports, content and general entertainment.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles-based VR production company VRSE teamed with NBC Universal to allow viewers to ‘sit’ with the studio audience for Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary. The segments are made available through the company’s mobile apps and an interactive 3D version is available through YouTube.
Software company Jaunt teamed up with Paul McCartney last year to launch a mobile app that put the viewer front and centre at the musician’s Candlestick Park concert in San Francisco. They also produced an Android VR app experience with former White Stripes frontman Jack White that captures three different performances.
VRSE has also partnered with Vice News and director Spike Jonze to film the Millions March protests in New York in December 2014. The segment takes you deep inside the event, walking you through the crowds that gathered on the streets of New York City. Many suggest this is a demonstration of the future of journalism as it creates an entirely new approach to coordinating around and communicating major events – surely something that brands should take note of.
“Frankly, journalistic storytelling and brand storytelling if done well are one and the same. Good branded content should be of value, interesting and entertaining to the audience that it’s intended for”, said Alex Light, Head of Content for Vice Australia, during a recent Singapore visit.
“It allows you to experience the narrative more first hand. It can really add a level of richness and depth to that story that traditional linear video doesn’t.”
Not surprisingly, the US Air Force is also using VR for recruitment, where candidates can fly an F-35 through an obstacle course.
In January, Qantas launched a trial VR entertainment services for their first class passengers that provide virtual tours of select destinations, although the safety of this approach is somewhat questionable. British Airways has also offered its own take on virtual travel experiences.
And to no one’s surprise, the most widely anticipated application is expected to occur in the porn industry, which has already seen an initial wave of experimentation and device integration. In Japan, where VR pornography is already an established business, Japanese developers recently produced a fake pair of breasts fitted with pressure sensors that connect to an Oculus Rift.
And it also comes as no surprise that global searches for ‘virtual reality porn’ have increased substantially in the last six months, with a major spike in January.
Global searches for ‘virtual reality porn’ are exploding.
The eventual destination for VR will most certainly be a hyper-experiential world, where as Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm foreshadowed we will be able to share complete experiences among friends, relatives and strangers. The combination of Facebook and Oculus Rift makes this an inevitable conclusion.
Mark Zuckerberg first alluded to this when the company purchased Oculus, suggesting it would be part of a new phase of experiential social sharing. In February, Facebook announced that it is moving forward with the concept and developing social applications for Oculus Rift.
As we brace for a society filled with people equipped with box-shaped devices strapped to their heads, is this really the best thing for communications? Putting aside Hollywood’s own paranoia-inducing productions, are we prepared for the likely adverse outcomes from mass adoption, including the potential for addiction and related disorders?
The VR ‘gold rush’ will undoubtedly stir further debate around real world versus virtual experiences. While there is room for both, it is the responsibility of those involved in promoting the adoption of these new technologies and related content to ensure that everyone, particularly our children, recognise the difference.