The concept of Virtual Reality has captured the imagination of the Baby Boomers, through to Gen X and the Millennials but finally in 2017 it has moved from a sci-fi pop culture promise to broadcasting reality.
At this year’s largest broadcasting summit MipTV in Cannes, France,VR took centre stage as the television industry attempts to grapple with how to use the immersive storytelling power of VR to deliver new forms of drama, documentary and entertainment across all screens.
While VR has been re-incarnated many times across recent decades it is the new generation headsets delivered by Sony, Google, Samsung, HTC and Oculus that has rejuvenated the platform. Headset sales have been slower than expected but there have been 10m shipments of Google Cardboard headsets, 5m for Samsung’s Gear VR; and 915k units sold of Sony’s PlayStation VR headset as evidence of nascent consumer interest. HTC’s Vive is estimated to have sold 420k units, while Facebook’s Oculus Rift is pegged at around 300k.
HTC’s Rikard Steiber said in his keynote, “we’re just at the beginning of what the technology can do. It’s a new computing platform: it’s going to be the next mass medium.”
While VR is the natural offshoot of gaming, there was another medium that was surfacing as VR’s natural ally, theatre. “It’s more like theatre than movies. But it’s a very unusual theatre: for one person,” said Sony’s Simon Benson.
“It’s theatre. It’s an experiential script. It’s part Charles Dickens, part Arthur Miller and part your television or film writer,” added Brian Seth Hurst from VR production company StoryTech Immersive.
TV production companies are wary of VR but can see the potential with companies developing VR spin-offs of popular shows in 2017 and 2018.
“That idea of a piece or kit or a new approach to technology really driving storytelling and opening up a new wave of television is really interesting. It’s incumbent on all of us to stay really curious about all these applications,” said Endomol Shine’s Kim Shillinglaw.
HTC’s Steiber added, “we’re in year one of virtual reality, which means of course it is entertainment and gaming-related. But moving forward, there will be new categories of experiences.”
Steiber claimed that the entertainment industry “is going to change radically” once VR is up and running as a mainstream technology, and encouraged TV producers to work with companies like HTC to drive that change.
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