VR: A New Platform for Storytellers

VirutalReality_RevolutionPictures_RoadToVRby Benton Olivares

Apparently, we’re two seconds away from The Matrix. 2016 saw massive strides in the virtual reality sector, and creators and marketers alike are taking notice of the intrigue and possibilities. Even on my Facebook feed I’ve seen 360 degree videos, and that blew my mind. It’s no wonder: Facebook invested $2 billion for the acquisition of Oculus. What does this mean for entertainment and storytelling? And when will our machine overlords enslave us in a virtual reality-induced coma? … Or have they done that already…?

The technology has been around for some time, but the fruition of it has only been seen in the past year, or so. In the first quarter of 2016, the sector had over $12 billion invested. It’s predicted that by 2020 there will be 52 million VR headsets sold in the US. Obviously, there’s a massive push for VR, and for reasons that are more emotional than machine.

VR is attributed with making content more visceral and human. For example, the New York Times submitted their virtual reality documentary, The Displaced, to Cannes Film Festival and was awarded the Mobile Grand Prix. That accomplishment opens up a completely new and untapped realm of storytelling possibility – there’s a new canvas in which to tell a story.

Also, the NYT proves there’s a new level of human interaction that can take place in this new tech; the content can be more empathetic and reach deeper emotions. Before, there was a certain disconnect between audiences and content because there’s the illusion of the Fourth Wall – the barrier that upholds the suspension of disbelief. It’s not a hinderance or a flaw, it’s simply an element of video or live theater. Audiences want to feel empathy with what they consume, whether it be movies, TV, or branded content. This new foray into uncharted storytelling has an large potential into revolutionizing the way that content reaches its viewers on a personal and human level. For brands, it’s an interesting way to reach newer, more savvy consumers.

What will that mean for traditional video?

There’s always the age-old jeremiad: “VR is a threat to video,” or other such laments. Movies have been around for over a hundred years, yet we still revel over the new releases and movie stars. People thought that with the advent of TV there would be a cataclysmic end to cinema-going. They were wrong. The 2015 box office recorded over $11 billion – a $1 billion increase over the 2014 box office. That’s nothing to sneeze at! Even with the Peak TV era that we are all (thankfully) living through, the numbers for box office seem to be constant – especially when one element is certain: the content must be good. Last year we saw the revitalization of decades-old franchises in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. The successes point to the fact that audiences are simply drawn to great stories.

In essence, I’m only more hopeful for the film and TV industry, as a whole, even with the rising popularity of VR. It’s a catalyst. In a world where views are currency, we’ve got to strive even harder and be more creatively roguish in order to captivate audiences. That’s my favorite! To me, there’s always going to be stories that can only be told in a certain medium; to that end, VR can exist in the same world as video and written stories. It will be interesting to see the new, amazing content that creators are able to achieve with virtual reality and video.