It’s been imagined for decades in sci-fi movies, and touted in recent years by developers around the globe, but at last it seems Virtual Reality has finally arrived for the mass market, and people are beginning to take notice. Yet, once considered mere fantasy, the notion of VR and “360 storytelling” has become widely accepted as a very real concept that could swiftly change the landscape of the media sector – with the worlds of TV, film and gaming all gearing up to take a slice of the virtual cake.
Major broadcasters are on board, with Sky in particular pledging to “put Virtual Reality into your living room”. The Pay TV giant last year made a hefty investment in VR company Jaunt, established their own in-house VR production wing in March this year, and in the past month announced the launch of an innovative ballet performance for their recently released Virtual Reality app – which also features the likes of David Beckham and Star Wars.
Meanwhile, Netflix seemingly shares Sky’s optimism for the format, and in August 2016 it released a 360-degree VR promo video for its cult hit Stranger Things. The BBC has also been keeping tabs on the emerging technology, though is committed to a “more measured approach”, assessing how VR might bring new dimensions to its mandate to deliver a public service. Speaking at the Edinburgh International TV Festival in September, Head of Entertainment Alan Tyler commented that the corporation needs more convincing, and that they “are not as far down the road as Sky. It’s crucial for us to understand what audiences feel about VR, how they are consuming it and whether they are consuming it in sufficient numbers to justify its place.”
So just how realistic is the VR revolution, and what can we expect from it in the coming months? Here are some of the key innovations to watch out for:
As political tension reaches fever pitch across the pond in the run-up to November’s Presidential election, NBC has partnered with AltspaceVR to offer a number of election-themed virtual reality events including Q&As with political experts, political comedy shows and a VR recreation of the real Democracy Plaza at the Rockefeller Centre in New York.
Sky, in particular is putting a lot of faith in VR as an emerging medium, and plans to commission around a dozen VR films over the next two years, with MD of Content Gary Davey optimistically commenting that: “our challenge is not to grow production but cut it down – because once people get to know the format, their appetite to produce more is insatiable”.
Throughout October and November, the Natural History Museum is offering visitors the chance to explore the oceans with David Attenborough in a unique VR experience crafted by Atlantic Productions.
Just days ago, it was announced that a partnership between Imax and Odeon is to lead to the opening of a bespoke Virtual Reality space in Manchester this year. The space will contain around 12 individual pods that feature an interactive seat, a headset and controllers.
News networks such as CNN (which now has a dedicated VR operation – CNNVR) are beginning to embrace VR technology as a means of delivering news in a more powerful way, and of encouraging further empathy from viewers. As Laurie Segall, CNN’s senior technology correspondent, argued at the recent Edinburgh Television Festival: “Using VR to touch on humanity has massive implications for news stories…If you can look to your left and to your right and behind you, and see things that take you to another place, that holds incredible power.”
While critics may call the movement a fad, and others may bemoan the amount of polishing still required of the technology, the investment from broadcasters and the enthusiasm from early audiences prove that VR most certainly isn’t a figment of fantasy any more. It is, quite plainly, a reality.