The year that was almost the year of VR

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 28 June 2016
Rosie Baker AdNews editor

I'm a skeptic about virtual reality (VR) and I remain so, even after virtual reality's big showing at Cannes Lions this year.

Since the launch of the iPhone, every year was heralded the year that mobile really would take off in the way it was promised. It took longer than people thought, becoming a long-standing joke with every passing year being 'the year of mobile'.

Now mobile is ubiquitous on every level, dominating attention and shaping almost every consumer communication behaviour.

It feels as though virtual reality is on the same trajectory. VR was the big thing at Cannes this year. Every passing corner seemed to have a VR headset demo, VR was littered throughout the awards shortlists and finalists, it was on the tip of everyone's tongue.

But despite that, it felt as though VR still isn't quite a thing.

It has huge potential, and I'm not denying that. I'm awed by its powers and the immersive experiences that can be created on it, but it feels like 'the year of VR' when it will actually become a mainstream media consideration is far, far off. The potential is massive, but I foresee another five years being dubbed 'the year of VR' before it gets anywhere close to materialising.

Like when Google launched glass, it was the next big thing. We were all going to be walking around saying 'OK Glass, take a photo' or OK Glass, email mum'. But look how that turned out. Google canned it as a consumer project, it was never a serous contender for consumers time and attention.

I'm not saying that the technology and the capability Glass offered won't come into play in the mainstream in the future, nor that VR falls into the same camp, but I just don't think it's ready yet.

Samsung CMO Marc Mathieu in his keynote talked about VR being the creation of a completely new and different media channel. And he's right - but it's one that hasn't found its place yet. There is no doubt that it will at some point gain critical mass, but whether it will revolutionise all media, communications and consumer entertainment, I'm not so sure.

The examples of VR work on show - such as the Grand Prix winning The New York Times 'The Displaced' work created by out of LA, point the way and demonstrate the broad scope And potential for VR. It gave a whole new dimension to the way New York Times readers could experience the refugee situation and it's powerful stuff.

As a storytelling medium VR brings the audience into the story in a way no other media can do. Educational executions like the Lockheed Martin schoolbus to Mars work by McCann New York and Framestore that turned a yellow school bus into a VR experience that virtually took school kids to Mars is a phenomenal example.

Samsung had a roller-coaster instalment on show at Cannes so you could feel and experience VR with all your senses, and YouTube was going big to push VR and 360 video content.

But there are still issues with the technology. For a start, while at their slickest iteration, Oculus goggles are still bulky and clunky and until they become more streamlined people will continue to feel self conscious and wary. The units themselves are already getting close to affordable but still lie outside of most people's 'must have gadget' list. Google's Cardboard offers an entry level way for brands to play with it, but there are still barriers.

And, there is still the issue that when people try it, many feel nauseous and uneasy during and afterwards.

But still my instinct is that while it's impressive, and here to stay, it's still firmly in the territory of novelty and there is a long leap before it's otherwise. Next year will again no doubt be the year of VR, and the year after that, and the year after that.


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