VR has established itself as an art form, as a medium for innovators, visionaries and tech enthusiasts. While it’s still seen as just that—a type of art form, a format still out of reach of the average person—the reality is that in order for VR to reach its potential, it needs to appeal to larger audiences and become more accessible starting now. The question thus becomes, “How do we make VR mainstream?” The answer? Content. In mass and in varied genres.
When you go to events like Sundance, you want to see the future. You want to be challenged by brave new experiments in storytelling. The problem though? Very few privileged industry professionals can actually experience these projects, most of which are created as art-installations not suited to reach masses in the first place. MIPTV is not so much about the future. It’s the reality of the market as it stands now. MIPTV is the place where thousands of content producers from across the world meet with distributors in order to secure hundreds of deals, big and small. You see TV series, cartoons and animation, all being acquired for international distribution for a wide variety of markets. And MIPTV is exactly the place VR needs to be if we want to grow the industry today. Fortunately, MIPTV 2018 had a special focus on immersive content.
In addition to the selection of VR/AR panels in the main conference program, for the second year in a row MIPTV organized an Immersive Content Leadership Summit. An invite-only half-day event gathered 40-60 entertainment executives—from companies actively working in VR to those studios and production companies only exploring the opportunities to add VR to their content lineup. It’s not your traditional conference where the audience passively listens to those onstage. It’s an in-depth brainstorming session with table discussions, panel discussions and active audience participation behind closed doors. Greenlight VR was once again a partner for the Immersive Content Leadership Summit, and the morning started with an exclusive report bringing the latest VR data to the market. Starting the conversation with the data makes the ensuing discussions more practical and realistic, breaking down problems within the industry—including original content.
If content is not funded today, what are viewers going to see in a year’s time? Data shows that the distribution of headsets is steadily growing year by year, especially in leading markets, such as China, Korea, the US and Western Europe. With hardware manufacturers getting ready for another big hardware push with stand-alone headsets like Oculus Go & HTC Focus, cinematic VR remains one of the most accessible and popular types of content, easily displayed on any device. That means we need more original content—not just advertising and short promotional spots. We need cinematic VR that spans genres—from action to comedy to news. Yet, there has still been little effort put into creating the variety and amount of content necessary to give the interested viewer a reason to purchase a VR headset.
“What is missing is the mass production of content that will help bring VR to the world“, said Juan Bossicard of EUVR.org, who moderated Immersive Summit. Participants agreed that the way forward is an unwavering focus on diversity, quantity and—not least of all QUALITY—of non-gaming content. “There are only so many people that want to wake up having to escape from a mental asylum, or play first-person shooters. A mass market needs mass-market content,” said Jonathan Flesher of Baobab Studios during the Summit. That’s why our studio Spherica has put such emphasis on recently releasing the original action series “Immersive Combat” featuring over 30 minutes of original, high-quality content. We’ve wanted to show that no genre is off-limits in cinematic VR.
Standardisation is another big question that was debated during the Immersive Content Leadership Summit. It’s a scary word because creators are often afraid that any regulations would limit their right for creativity and experiment. At Spherica we learned through our own experiences how important it is to break the rules and industry stigmas in order to push the industry forward as we paved the way for stabilized camera movement in cinematic VR storytelling. But the experiment is one thing, and viewers comfort is another. Let’s agree that content that is triggering motion sickness is unacceptable in 2018. It’s not the “early days” any more; there are tools available and studios doing great work. Nevertheless, we are still seeing a bunch of content triggering motion sickness and lacking simple production quality, even from big studios and brands. While experimenting with content is important, we mustn’t forget that so is viewer comfort.
MIPTV is a place for distributors and content producers to strike deals, but for VR companies to do so successfully, they need to be able to showcase VR content effectively to potential buyers. Here MIPTV was once again able to set an example.
Each and every content producer that has ever tried to showcase VR content at a massive event knows how frustrating it can be. You need a person to explain how to put on the headset. Every time you wish to show a different file, you must have the viewer take off the headset, switch to the correct file, and place the headset back on the viewer, hopefully all while facing no glitches in the system.
This year MIPTV organizers brought the French company Diversion Cinema to showcase VR content. Diversion organized a VR Library as part of the innovation Hub pavilion in the main expo zone. From my experience of going to many VR events both in the US and in Europe, it was the most well-organized experience for visitors I have seen. Diversion Cinema software allowed you to easily log-in into the system with your conference ID and to access a full library of cinematic VR content chosen for the showcase. More than 60 pieces of content from VR companies, including Baobab, Discovery, ARTE, Jaunt, and Spherica, were organized into a catalogue that was easy to browse, with the ability to not only read more information about the production but also create a playlist. After the viewer selected the pieces of content he or she wished to view, it was only necessary to put on the headset and headphones. Content then began to play in the order it was selected. No buffering, no person standing next to you waiting while you finish viewing the content—the viewer could easily jump between different experiences. That’s exactly how I want to experience cinematic VR content at mass events, unlike Sundance where it was disorganized and frustrating. Our production studio Spherica had three pieces of content in the VR Library in the sports and action genres, and we received very positive feedback and interest from several distributors from different markets as a result.
The need for more original content to be created, marketed and monetized is exactly why it is so important to bring VR to events like MIPTV. The world’s largest TV & Content market is the ideal place to bridge the gap between content producers for traditional entertainment markets and VR and create a sustainable immersive market in the future. I personally hope that there will be even more focus on VR/AR in the years to come.
Top photo: © ViewApart / GettyImages