There is a lot of talk around virtual reality due to the upcoming releases of the Oculus Rift and HTC Hive headsets. Adding to that, The New York Times recently launched immersive VR stories, delivering 1.2 million Google Cardboard VR headsets around the country. As consumers get their hands on more and more VR devices coming out in early 2016, the talk is not going to die down.
I was fortunate to recently demo the HTC Hive at Valve’s headquarters in Seattle and can confirm the technology will have a huge impact on almost all industries, especially media, publishing and advertising. The feeling was similar to the first time I saw the Web in my freshman dorm room: it was clear the rules had changed. Valve’s virtual world will convince anyone that the future is coming, and it is coming faster than we expect.
“Virtual reality is no longer just about video gaming; it holds promise as nothing short of revolutionary for just about every other industry, as well.” -Tech Crunch
That’s a sentence that strikes fear into the hearts of every savvy CEO and CIO in every industry. The past 20 years of digital business has brought disruption to every space, knocking down or destroying giants. The 2016 digital economy plays by an entirely new set of structural rules, the DNA of business has been permanently altered. Many believe VR have the potential to disrupt everything once again and there has been wild business speculation on how and when that will happen but it’s not time freak out and hire a team of VR experts quite yet.
The hardware, though great, has limitations. The headsets that provide the fully immersive experiences are still bulky and require a wired connection to a PC. While fine for hardcore gamers, it’s hard to imagine mass adoption until the gear becomes smaller and more mobile. There is also the issue of ‘presence’, or the ability to not make you motion sick… which has yet to be perfected. Mobile headsets, those that use your smartphone as the screen, are far from ready for prime time. I was nauseous for hours after watching the captivating New York Times VR piece on refugees. Improved VR cameras, headsets, smartphones and lenses are all being worked on and will surely improve the current experience. But until they arrive adoption beyond gaming and entertainment will be limited to early adopters and niche applications.
The marketing infrastructure required to mass market like creating, distributing, and measuring ads has not been thought through. It took the industry years to figure out how to accurately deliver and measure banner ads (I would argue we still don’t know) and in app advertising is still a work in progress, so it is going to be some time before we have the tools in place to truly run effective mass campaigns.
What Your Company or Organization Should Be Doing
While every company in every sector shouldn’t be developing a VR strategy, it would be prudent for savvy CEOs and CIOs to get to know VR releases as they debut and to keep a close eye on relevant spaces. There are also plenty of short-term opportunities for content providers who want to stick their toe in the water. The New York Times has shown that it is possible to generate positive buzz and position themselves as a thought leader by experimenting with VR. If you are a business where being a thought leader is a core competency, experimenting with VR could provide good press if not user growth. Furthermore, many developers in the space are truly excited to experiment and are willing to trade their development skills for a platform.
We are still a few years away from true mass adoption and a few more years away from the inevitable convergence of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, where there will be significant opportunity for marketers. I am excited to be diving into this world, look here for updates on how Virtual Reality is impacting the publishing, marketing and content space. So, will it disrupt your organization? Yes. When and how? We will be taking a closer look at specific industries and adoption curves over the next couple months.