For the sixth episode of Take 3, we’re joined in the studio by 3Pillar’s Will Sherlin and Chris Graham to take a look at the emergence of Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality is an immersive media experience that uses video and sound to simulate an interactive environment. With the recent release of the Oculus Rift headset, Virtual Reality has come into the mainstream media industry and transformed not just the way content is consumed, but also the way it’s created.
Will Sherlin is the Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at 3Pillar Global. He oversees the 3Pillar website and other web properties, hosts 3Pillar’s “Innovation Engine” podcast, and manages 3Pillar’s social media accounts.
Chris Graham leads the Media and Entertainment vertical at 3Pillar Global. He works with clients across the Media and Entertainment space, including Broadcast Media, Online Media, Publications and Newspapers, Gaming, Music, and Sports. Chris is responsible for ensuring overall customer success and satisfaction, as well as growing the vertical’s client base.
Julia Slattery: Let’s start at the beginning. When did virtual reality start taking shape as a player in the media?
Chris Graham: That’s a good question. I think virtual reality has been around for quite some time, but we’ve seen it sort of rise and fall, become popular and then not really know what it means or how it can stick around. I think up until Oculus was bought by Facebook, it was something that was always there but we didn’t know quite how to bring it to the mainstream. I think now that we’ve seen Facebook making investments and we are seeing other media companies do so – we are seeing a Samsung release of VR products – we believe now that it is here to stay and it’s definitely going to influence the media industry going forward.
Julia Slattery: You were both pretty early adopters of this technology. How do you like it and what kind of changes has it made in your life (if it’s made any kind of change)?
Will Sherlin: Well to clarify, I own an I AM Cardboard device and I’ve owned that for about a month. It’s basically a cardboard VR player that Google makes and a number of others do as well. You can get them for as cheap as $15 on Amazon. It’s not going to be the completely immersive experience that something like the Oculus Rift or Microsoft’s HoloLens are, but it is still pretty amazing what you can do with a $15 piece of “hardware.” You basically drop your iPhone or Android device into it and then you are transported into a virtual reality world. There is relatively limited content available for it right now.
I think that the areas where we will really see major changes in the way media is consumed in are things like sporting events and live events like concerts. I’ll talk about this a little bit later in the podcast or a little bit later in the recording, but the NCAA tournament – which ended last night, very sadly for me with a last-second shot for Villanova to win it all, I’m a big Tar Heels fan – was streaming a VR video of the game and I had a chance to watch some of that on the Samsung Gear VR on Saturday, and it’s pretty amazing. The best way I heard it described was it’s like you’re sitting Indian-style at midcourt. So you have essentially the best seat in the house; the only downside is you have something strapped to your face so you can’t really enjoy the game with others like you normally would. We were actually out at a bar and my buddy brought it and he got some funny looks. But it was also the type of thing that people at first were kind of snickering at, but then over the course of time, enough people tried it on that it became a novelty and people were coming up to our group of friends and asking to put it on and see what we were looking at. So I do think it will change the way we consume for sports and live events, and I’m sure there are other areas where a giant change could be coming.
Chris Graham: To add to that, you bring up a good point that the way you consume this content is a very intimate experience because it’s you and that device. So in a social setting, that may not be the way that you want to, for the entire time, consume content. But I think that this is where this becomes a secondary item for people to consume additional content – it may not be the main way, but then there are industries where this is a good fit. The gaming industry is probably a good example of where this is potentially a primary device or primary way to consume that content.
Will Sherlin: Just to go one step further – one thing that I was actually talking about with friends as they were experiencing it and I was as well: it will also change the way that content is captured. So imagine watching a baseball game – I love baseball, played it growing up, but I cannot sit through a nine inning game unless it is the playoffs. And part of that probably is the fact that you are getting the same view from behind the pitcher over and over and over again. Imagine if you’re getting the view from the catcher’s mask and you are seeing a 90 mile an hour fastball come in high and tight. It’s going to be a totally different experience, and the same will probably be true for fielders. They will be outfitted with jersey cameras or head cams or something, maybe the ball will be outfitted. I don’t know what will happen, but I think it will definitely change the viewing experience so that you are seeing many more angles of everything. Sports is the main thing I’m thinking of right now, but it could touch everything potentially.
Chris Graham: Gatorade actually did a virtual reality project with Bryce Harper. They’ve used it not only to record an advertisement for Gatorade, but there is an interactive experience where they are showing what it looks and feels like for Bryce Harper to be up to bat and you can actually be part of that. So even without a VR device, within that YouTube video, you are able to get 360 views of the content. That’s something that I think we’ll see, is that virtual reality is going to push the industry into new ways of creating and recording content. And then a follow on from that will be that other users can take advantage of that better quality content even without a virtual reality device; things like 360 views are now available as an outcome of that new device being virtual reality.
Julia Slattery: You all kind of already touched on this, but do you have any other predictions for what kind of changes it has a brought or it might bring to the way we create and consume media?
Will Sherlin: Sure, so the other device that we’ve seen make progress within media creation and consumptions is drones. It’s gone from being a recreational tool to another tool that media companies can use to capture content. So again, that lends itself well to virtual reality in many ways. Obviously, you can use a VR type of device to record the content, but then playing back, you are now able to get those 360 views that a drone can record, and a VR device is a good way to consume that. So I see drones and virtual reality really together leading the charge on how we create the content and then from that, create new ways for the user to consume it.
Julia Slattery: Google Glass was kind of an early version of this and it flopped. What is going to make this kind of virtual reality different from Google Glass and how do you think it’s going to fair going forward?
Will Sherlin: I would say Google Glass was more of an augmented reality device than a virtual reality device. That may seem like a slight difference, but I think it’s an important one. So augmented reality, you are essentially creating overlays of the world you are seeing. One of the common use cases is if you are walking through New York, you would see directions or information about the closest subway station flashed up on your face before you actually get there. And it’s kind of a merging of the physical and digital worlds together, but it’s not necessarily clear which world you are in. I don’t know why, but the visceral reaction that I had when I saw people with Google Glass on was a negative one. With virtual reality, there is no doubt about which world you are in; you are clearly in the digital world. For whatever reason, I think that that’s an important distinction to make. People know that when you have the VR headset on, you are somewhere different than present with them.
To answer your original question, I guess I would say that there is a difference between Google Glass and the VR viewers that we are going to see coming on the market – like the Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens, Samsung Gears VR, which is already out there. I don’t know that Google has anything that they are working on in the VR realm, I guess other than Cardboard; I’m sure they do, but I don’t know about it if they are.
Julia Slattery: So do you think virtual reality will make the most waves in the media industry or do you think this will have a huge impact on any other kind of space or industry?
Chris Graham: That’s a great question. I think the media industry will definitely lead the adoption of virtual reality and how creative technologies need to then use it in other industries. I think the auto industry and the gaming industry are probably the two that can take advantage of it the most right now. The media industry is always looking to be innovative, so they are also leading the charge. So I think those three are big.
I think longer-term, we can see the tourism industry take advantage of this with, as I mentioned before, drones and 360 views. The tourism space is definitely able to leverage this technology and allow viewers to see destinations and make decisions on whether or not that’s somewhere they want to go. Back to the media industry though, I think what it also does is really change the advertising strategies that many media companies have. Gone are the days of just pre-role, post-role or mid-role types of ad insertions. Now, there are opportunities to advertise in ways that are not only personalized to the user, but feel as if the user is part of the experience. So it’s interesting to see how it is going to bring in some of the old advertising techniques of product placements like you would see in movies or something that you maybe don’t see as often now, like billboards on the side of the road. Those types of experiences can be brought into this new virtual reality platform and will really open up the ways that users – or I should say media companies – can monetize content to their users.
Will Sherlin: I would look at a couple of other industries as well where it could make waves. Some of my friends that I was talking about virtual reality with work in the commercial real estate world. And imagine rather than flipping through 34 images of a home that you are looking to buy on Zillow, you could strap on your headset and take a virtual tour of any property that you get to see.
I would also look at a space like healthcare possibly. Physical therapy and rehab is a constant struggle for people who are older or not in great health or are looking to recover from a surgery or something along those lines; if they are unable to go to PT or don’t want to go to PT, I think there are interesting opportunities that VR opens up for gamification and patient engagement, essentially. I don’t know exactly what that will look like, but I do think that there could be a huge area where VR could get big.
Chris Graham: Yeah, the health and wellness space is a big one. I’m glad you mentioned that, Will, because within the wellness industry, that’s often where the lines can be blurred between is a gym considered to be a health and wellness company or is it a media company? Especially because they have content that they provide their users. This will allow someone who subscribes to a gym to have an experience with that gym when they are not only in the gym, but home as well. Right now, gyms send out magazines, subscriptions, things like that. Content is sent out over email or in print. This is another way.
I think the other space on the healthcare side of things is how this improves interacting with patients diagnosing and helping to solve illnesses. In my family, we are constantly buying iPhone accessories for an otoscope or thermometers. So these different tools that we can simply plug into our iPhone and use to spot an ear infection or to see if one of our kids has a fever, this would allow you to bring a medical professional into your house to help diagnose something. We are starting to see the medical field start to use these devices and push that content out to get diagnoses, and now this brings it to more of a real-time type of experience.