i3 | January 16, 2017

VR Plunges Into the Storytelling Mix

Gary Arlen

Virtual reality (VR) is emerging as a viable content format for scripted programming, advertising, news and sportscasts.

From the National Basketball Association VR game of the week, to USA Today’s “VRtually There” news show (co-produced with YouTube) and Huffington Post’s “Big Picture” (produced with Hulu), VR content is using viewing hardware ranging from Facebook’s Oculus Rift equipment to the latest HTC Vive and Samsung headsets to Sony’s new PlayStationVR.

Oculus is working with Disney to include VR experiences for Blade Runner 2049 to be distributed on the Oculus platform for the 2017 film release. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says, “We’re here to make VR the next major computing platform.”

Fox used VR for its seventh season debut of The Walking Dead, putting audiences into The Riding Dead VR zombie outbreak. And NBA Digital, the league’s unit managed by the NBA and Turner Sports, is working with NextVR to produce gamecasts with multiple camera angles, optimized graphics plus access to behind-the-scenes VR content during the games.

The Huffington Post and VR studio RYOT also launched a ten-part Big Picture: News in Virtual Reality series for the Hulu VR app. Viewers could plunge in using the new Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR viewers.

Meanwhile, Hollywood shining lights, including Steven Spielberg, are developing VR productions. Jim Mainard, EVP of digital strategy, DreamWorks Animation, at a conference, predicted that “2019 may be where we turn the corner for revenue.”

Marketers Eye VR

With that financial promise and the stunning content in the pipeline, companies such as Toyota, PepsiCo, Marriott and Volvo are jumping into the virtual space. At a media conference in New York, PepsiCo’s Adam Harter, VP of cultural connections, called VR an “arms race” for creating experiences. Pepsi’s Mountain Dew brand placed commercials within NBA games that were produced in VR, aimed at a target audience.

Toyota is the first sponsor for “VRtually There,” creating “cubemercials,” 360° ads that give viewers a virtual ride in a Camry across Australia’s outback. Although it’s not yet a commercial, Volvo has distributed an app to promote its XC90 SUV, also offering a VR ride in the country. The Marriott VR experience includes “teleportation” to a Hawaiian beach, which the company calls “revolutionary 4D tourism.”

Robert Stromberg, a founder and chief creative officer of the Virtual Reality Company, says VR entertainment and marketing will take on new forms. Stromberg, who directed The Martian VR Experience, called VR creators “new pioneers with bold ideas moving into the unknown.” He added, “It’s still early in defining what this new medium is or will become.”

Emotional branding, the core of storytelling, and the immersive capabilities of VR fit the model that marketers have created for “a captivating brand story.” Brand managers cite emotion, authenticity and personal connections as the core to effective content marketing. VR fulfills that checklist. For example, allied with the C Space agenda at CES, Turner Sports will present the Sports Business Innovation showcase including its ELEAGUE virtual race with 20 Formula E drivers and 10 international fans. The track will include a zip along the Las Vegas Strip, and be available via Twitch, for gamers.

Such pioneering plunges into the evolving virtual entertainment world underscore the changing nature of marketing.

January/February 2017 i3 Cover Issue

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