By now, you’ve heard the promise and read the press: Virtual reality is on the verge of becoming a groundbreaking step forward for many interests — from consumers to the enterprise.
I’m a digital media consultant, and my area of focus is new business development — helping media and tech companies find partnerships that help them grow. So I’ve been traversing public VR conferences, private corporate events, even boardrooms, all to see where the business opportunities are here.
I’ve encountered a rich pageant of parties eyeballing this new platform — from wireless charging entrepreneurs to curious studio executives, a few brave advertising entrepreneurs, and of course game companies. There are also potential applications for VR across a wide span of other areas: real estate, medicine, even aviation. But after talking to some of the biggest first movers in VR, it’s clear there really isn’t a uniform business development roadmap, at least not yet.
The top VR players — Magic Leap, Facebook’s Oculus, Sony, and Microsoft’s Hololens — are really not saying much at this point. They’re quietly taking meetings, signing NDAs, doing Q&A, and writing code, but they’re playing their cards close to their vest.
And what about the major media players? One Hollywood studio brought a large group of us across the country recently to “present ideas” over several days on its lot, all in the interests of “helping us understand this.” Another backed off any business meetings, sending along its tech teams to meet us first. And a very big one mentioned it has a “committee of 90 looking at VR” so that it can understand “what it means, across the enterprise.” Apparently everyone wants to be on that committee.
For an emerging technology with so much capital, attention, new hardware, and potentially large tech and media interests stirring about, I’ve found the media business development landscape to be rather flat. It’s more about the technology and hardware than the content at this stage.
There are some fundamentals at play that clearly hold back this new technology from becoming a mainstream medium: incompatible development platforms, high priced hardware, curious and occasionally nausea-inducing consumer experiences, and app stores that just aren’t there yet, to name a few.
So how can you tell where VR will take hold first? And how can forward-looking businesses position themselves so they don’t get left behind when VR really takes off?
There are definitely some other gaps and opportunities I can see at this stage:
There are many 360 video technologies and players in the market, but not so many great 3D audio technologies. Taken for granted by some, audio is a key, nearly forgotten part of the new landscape, as important as video. Every good new VR or AR technology needs a strong 3D audio technology, so this area seems fundamental.
Perhaps obvious, but the few media types I’ve seen hinting at the development of ad networks for VR apps are brave pioneers, as are some of the new VR agencies producing curiosities like a McDonald’s virtual happy meal app, or Blippar’s Pepsi cans, which link consumers to augmented reality promotions.
Games are perhaps a closer world to VR, with some similar business models (in-app purchasing) to consider, and a shared development language in Unity. But I hope that gaming won’t be the centerpiece of this new medium’s growth prospects. I mean no disrespect to the game business; I simply feel VR can shape many industries, and I’d like to see a new sector flourish or perhaps lead the way with virtual reality.
And here are some hopefully constructive ideas for first movers to gear up to capture opportunity in this new space:
The “vibe” of the VR business makes me think back to the early commercial days of the Internet. There’s a lot of potential, but the pieces just aren’t coming together yet. They will eventually come together, though. And the results will force changes in many industries. This brave new VR world looks potent to me.
By: Seth Schachner