Gabey Goh
Jun 23, 2016

VR: Not there yet, but you can’t ignore it

Virtual reality has been a popular topic at Cannes Lions, and while it is still nowhere near mainstream adoption, it remains a technology for brands and agencies to watch.

Cannes visitors experience VR
Cannes visitors experience VR

CANNES - Google’s VP of virtual reality, Clay Bavor, admits that virtual reality (VR) will have a slower ramp-up than people may expect.

“It’s going to take some time before the quality of content and volume of devices grow in volume,” he said during a press breakfast briefing on Wednesday at the Cannes Lions Festival. “There will most likely be some headsets, but we think that the platform that will help VR reach critical mass will be mobile.”

Last year's release of Cardboard helped establish an entry point for VR. But Bavor, one of the co-creators, will be the first to point out that probably less than 1 percent of the world has experienced VR, although Google has shipped millions of Google Cardboard viewers around the world.

“No one has really seen VR,” he added. “That’s why we’re focused on building scale and approachability, like the launch of Cardboard. It’s cardboard! How scary can it be? I can make it out of a pizza box.”

And the world appears to at least be interested in moving toward visiting digitally constructed and fully immersive spaces. According to Google Data from May 2016, global search interest for virtual reality on the search platform has grown by nearly four times in the last year.

Video platform YouTube also lays claims to more 360-degree and VR content than any platform in the world, and reports that uploads of 360-degree videos continue to grow—doubling over the past three months.

Jessica Brillhart, principle filmmaker at Google, said the challenges content creators are grappling with now are not merely technical but also relate to methodology and mindset.

“The first takeaway for me when experimenting with VR is that it’s not filmmaking,” she added. “In traditional filmmaking, the frame is everything; you never look away from the frame. But with VR, it becomes a world of frames and the concept of space changes. The viewer becomes the visitor, so how do you engage and tell a story in that way?”

Aaron Luber, head VR partnerships at Google said that brands from Coachella to BMW are already experimenting with the 360 and 360 VR format, with interest in using the technology in campaigns running high.

In conjunction with the advertising festival and to showcase the work being done by brands around the world, YouTube released a 360-specific Ads Leaderboard. BMW’s M2 – Eyes on Gigi Hadid video ad, by KBS and Universal McCann landed top spot with more than 5 million views.

Full YouTube 360 Ads Leaderboard Rankings

 

Preparing for VR as a first language

But Google isn’t the only one pushing to ramp up the content available in 360 and VR. Getty Images recently launched its Virtual Reality Group, a new business dedicated to the creation and global distribution of virtual reality (VR) content.

It provides more than 12,000 premium 360 images, with new content added daily, as well as high-res gigapixel content from key events and venues. The company also has a partnership with Google, which sees Getty Images supplying hi-res VR content from current events around the world for Google Expeditions.

Getty has also been one of the early movers with the 360 format, having partnered with Oculus Rift in June 2015 to make its 360 imagery available for users of the Oculus platform via its 360° View by Getty Images collection.

Speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific at Cannes, Getty Images CMO Susan Smith Ellis said that the creation of the new group was a “natural progression” for the company.

“We’re been doing this for a long time and we have the talent with an eye for story that lends itself well to virtual reality content,” she said.

Ellis added that from a business perspective, with brands from McDonald's to Coca Cola to BMW getting into it, there is also a commercial opportunity for the company.

“It is also an engagement opportunity for us, for people coming to Getty Images,” she added. “Last year we had 1 billion unique views for our site.”

To illustrate, Ellis pointed to the work the company did to help draw attention to the UN Global Goals—a series of 17 ambitious targets to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice as well as tackle climate change, by 2030. In a world first, Getty Images captured a 360-degree image of the UN General Assembly in session.

Ellis is much more bullish about the rate of VR adoption than the Google team, pointing out that $1 billion has already been invested into the platform in 2016 by a variety of players.

“All the platforms are on it, not because it’ll save lives but because they see the great commercial opportunity,” she said. Indeed, Ellis shared that Getty is also working with Mattel on content for its VR View-Master, which launched late last year, supplying visual experiences for children around topics like nature and animals.

“As it becomes commonplace in schools, and you can make your own, the real explosion will happen, and much faster than you think,” she said. “For the next generation, it will be VR as a first language.”

But for now the CTO of DigitasLBi, Scott Ross, is happy to be the one dissenting voice in the room when it comes to the VR conversation and the role it plays in the marketing mix.

“It’s the latest hot technology clicky thing now, but I don’t think it’s ready for primetime,” he told Campaign Asia-Pacific. “As an industry we are spending more time talking about it than the general consumer. That’s not a bad thing because that’s how all technologies start, but it’s something we’re focusing on without understanding how it’s going to make a difference to a lot of our clients.”

Ross said that his own agency is certainly keeping tabs on the technology, and ensuring it has the internal expertise to wield it. However, when clients come into meetings talking about VR, the question posed is always “Well, what do you want to do with it?”, as the objective must first be clearly defined.

“Some brands are well suited to VR content and experiences while others aren’t,” he added. “For now, as an advertising vehicle, executions still remain very installation-based where headsets need to be provided to consumers so that the experience can be had.” 

Google's VR toolbox

At Cannes, Google reiterated its commitment to the emerging technology, recapping some major announcements made during Google I/O earlier this year. The release of these tools is expected to help accelerate the adoption of 360 and VR formats by content creators. 

Jump

Jump is an entire ecosystem for creating virtual reality videos, which comprises three parts:

  • A camera rig consisting of 16 camera modules in a circular array.
  • An assembler, software that that automatically assembles and processes 16 pieces of video into stereoscopic VR video.
  • A player.

Daydream

The successor to Google Cardboard, it is a VR platform to be built-into the Android operating system starting with the release of N. Intended to enable every smartphone running its operating system to be a VR headset right out of the box.

Tilt Brush

An app bundled in with the HTC Vive, which allows users to paint in three-dimensional space.

 

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