Earlier today I spoke at the CSI’s Virtual Reality Summit, where I outlined my brief thoughts on the industry in TV and video. From meeting so many incredible people in the industry, these are the main thoughts I have in the industry now and in the future:

The future of VR is mobile, for now

No-one has the money to purchase the required gear at the moment, and it is a significant barrier of entry for any prospective consumer. The Google Cardboard breaks the mould by offering cheap experiences to the masses. It is inferior, but it is by far the most accessible, and in a market where content is king, it is access which trumps quality, at least for adoption. Beyond adoption, the content will make sure consumers come back – but in order to access the content in the first place, there must be a solid base of users who can tap into them.

Many would say that the Oculus would be the main area, based on a variety of studies. At the moment, the top topic among Onalytica’s Top 100 VR influencers is the Oculus, taking a massive 22% of the share of voice. It is a hot topic. However, I feel it is also misguided. For example, several of the top influencers were the first movers of the VR new age – Palmer Luckey being on top. It is not representative of the mass of voices exploring other, many diverse areas, as VR is one of the most vibrant and ever-changing industries at the moment.

“In a market where content is king, it is access which trumps quality.”

VR has successfully broken the ‘established base cycle’

This is a concept I created for an article in ITProPortal, where I explored how there needs to be a solid base of units to generate the content required to sell additional units. If there is not enough hardware in the market, or enough games for the headset, then it starts a cycle where not enough users would want to buy the hardware. If not enough users are buying the hardware, then developers are less tempted to develop the software. And if there is not enough software, then consumers are less tempted to purchase the hardware – why buy a platform with little support? This was what happened to both the Wii U and PS Vita – both innovative and interesting consoles, but they entered the cycle where developers could not develop for the hardware because there were not enough customers, and customers did not buy enough hardware because there wasn’t enough software.

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Recent statistics have shown that we have broken that cycle – Palmer Luckey has stated that inflammatory articles of sales flatlining were false, for example. In addition, around 14.5 million smartphone VR headsets, worth over $500 million, are expected to be sold in 2016. This forms the solid basis for breaking the cycle to make sure content flows through to the hardware – however, the content must be strong enough to retain the viewers in the long-term.

We are still waiting for that system seller

When the NES rose to prominence, it was Mario which led Nintendo to prosperity. When the Genesis was rearing its head, it was Sonic which helped sell the hardware. When the Playstation came through the gates, it was Crash Bandicoot which shifted the hardware off the shop shelves. When selling hardware, it is the software which is the final decision, the breaking point, the reason any consumer buys the manufactured metal – for the experiences they must see to believe.

As of now, we are in the ‘wild west’ of virtual reality – hundreds of projects gearing for attention and appeal. It is an exciting time to be working in any part of VR right now. But as of yet, I have not seen the piece of software which has captured the nation’s hearts and got everyone to start using the technology – not to the same level as other software spearheaders. When that comes through – and I heavily suspect that will be in the broadcast industry – then the world will turn its head.

“When selling hardware, it is the software which is the final decision, the breaking point, the reason that any consumer buys the manufactured metal – for the experiences they must see to believe.”

The industry is still playing with gimmicks

Most of the time, VR is not being applied properly. There are many times where the use of the technology is not needed, and does not add much to the viewing experience. There is a comedy series which is starting for example, where people can watch a comedian with a 360 view. This adds nothing. Yet Timelooper adds an element of standing in a time of history, such as the burning of St Pauls during the Great Fire of London – the twist being you need to be by St Pauls to experience the fire.

Like with any art form, there needs to be application and purpose. You need to give the viewer a reason to turn their head, or for a first person perspective to be adopted. Breaking Fourth chose a ‘bystander perspective’ for the viewer early in development because it gives them a purpose – to watch the games of Ctrl. Pass the gimmicks, and you will see some exciting, game-changing mediums which will press through.

I dislike the term ‘VR evangelist’

I must preface that I have nothing against these people, and with many I respect their thoughts and the work they have done for adoption. Yet I am careful about anything related to VR evangelism, as many of their core tenants can be compared to blind faith and radical, perhaps short-sighted ideals.

Many call for VR to be the next step in media, and that it will replace TV and video. That it is a superior viewing experience for all concerned. I couldn’t disagree more. VR fills a side niche which will fill its own purpose in its own relevant industries, and it will never supplant television. Nor should it, for they both fit different markets. I also want VR to be adopted more widely, but I am also a skeptic base don the information we have seen on sales and how it is being applied – a VR evangelist tends to follow an idea, rather than stay firm on the ground.

These are my thoughts as of 20 October 2016. Let’s see how they hold up over the next few months and years.

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