VR is potentially a killer app for the TV industry — but it's way too early to say for sure what real opportunities it presents. That was the gist of presentations at a webinar presented this week by StudioDaily sister publication Cablefax, where panelists discussed the emerging VR market and what it means for television as we know it. A lot of ground was covered during the 90-minute session, which is available for viewing on demand, but we've distilled five of the most relevant nuggets of wisdom for you here.
1) Not everyone can (or should) be a pioneer. According to Joel Espelien, a senior analyst at The Diffusion Group, the presumed young male target demographic for VR means that a good proportion of the successful early-adopter applications will be first-person shooters and, yes, porn. "Adult [content] may be more prominent than people would want, or be comfortable with," Espelien said. "If I'm Disney or Pixar, I'm not necessarily racing to be right next to that stuff, but if I'm Vice or Red Bull, being early in VR can make sense."
2) Early VR distribution will take cues from videogames. Julian Reyes, lead VR producer for Fusion, an ABC-Disney joint venture, talked about creating 360-degree video content using the Unreal Engine. An upcoming project, Mars 2030, is being created in partnership with NASA to look at current progress on an upcoming mission to Mars. Fusion hired game developers from other AAA titles to help work on the project. "Since Fusion is a channel that's geared to millennials, and a lot of us are gamers ourselves, we definitely liked the idea of incorporating videogame mechanics into our storytelling," Reyes said. Fusion is also leveraging existing videogame distribution channels. "We are approaching the videogame market by putting these titles on the Steam marketplace," Reyes explained. "The Mars experience will be available for the Oculus Rift, but we are porting it to create a slimmed-down version for the Samsung Gear VR and, in the near future, porting it to the PlayStation VR."
3) Live sports may become lucrative. Looking at opportunities for a multichannel provider that could provide authentication for broadband delivery of VR, Time Warner Cable Executive VP and Chief Video Officer Melinda Witmer suggested live sports may be a killer app for the mainstream VR market. She credited a conversation with Golden State Warriors co-owner (and Mandalay Entertainment CEO) Peter Guber with opening her eyes to the excitement surrounding sports VR applications. Still, it will require a lot negotiation. "Electronic sports rights are pretty heavily wrapped up with the major television networks," she acknowledged. "Somewhere between working with the leagues and the teams — as well as their rightsholders, like the ESPNs and Foxes of the world — I wouldn't expect to see that content winding up too far from an authenticated experience in the future, so I think [multichannel] operators could be helpful in making that work."
4) VR shoots are easy; VR post is hard. Cory Key, interactive creative director for Discovery Communications, says Discovery VR's production needs have been met so far by nothing but 360Heros VR rigs and GoPro cameras. "The bottleneck is post-production," he said, especially the need to have the multiple GoPro images manually stitched after the shoot. "There are no previews on GoPro, so you're putting it down and crossing your fingers that you're getting a good shot." The Nikon KeyMission 360, a 4K UHD consumer actioncam with two lenses and sensors facing forward and backward that debuted at CES, may be a game-changer when it's released later this year, Key said, since it stitches the captured images together in camera to create a 360-degree image.
5) VR still needs to overcome the 3D stigma. Witmer said content companies who made an outlay to be a pioneer in 3D are looking askance at claims that VR will be the next big entertainment format. "What probably doesn't help right now is that one of the things that happened with 3D was different formats, different kinds of glasses, some of which were really expensive, the experience depended on the equipment you had as well as the content — from how it was created down to the lighting in your room where you were watching. And 3D turned out to be a dud for the industry. So there is some healthy skepticism out there about whether or not investing in VR is going to pay off."
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