Virtual reality: is 2017 the year VR goes mainstream?

Image of virtual reality user as part of post on VR and consumer adoption by social media agency Clarity Comms

Virtual reality: is 2017 the year VR goes mainstream?

Is 2017 the year that virtual reality takes off with consumers? That’s the view of many of the speakers and attendees at this year’s VR Creative Summit in London. Over several seminars, panel workshops and masterclasses, VR’s potential was discussed. So is the optimism justified? And are consumers VR ready?

Here’s our view of the summit and what is clearly an exciting technology with huge potential.

2016 has been a busy year for VR

Virtual reality isn’t new but 2016 has seen a range of consumer devices hit the market: Google Cardboard and its successor Daydream, Sony’s VR Headset for the PS4 as well as Facebook-owned Oculus Rift. Microsoft too has entered the market with its B2B focused (for now) Hololens. It’s likely that these trends will continue in 2017 as the devices and software improve.

With plenty of TV producers and creatives at a packed summit there’s clearly huge enthusiasm for VR. Yet many speakers noted the challenges too: the need to create compelling stories, the ellusive killer app that drives mass adoption and the practicalities of creating content across multiple platforms. The demo apps were all interesting and some such as the virtual spacewalk exceptionally well executed.

Unspoken too was Apple’s absence from the conversation, an indication perhaps that the VR still has a way to go.

Content is king

A big theme to come out of the sessions was content and how do think about, approach and deliver VR content. One session, the “10 commandments to make great VR” picked up on the real challenges. Two in particular stood out: the need to create presence and immersion. This seems to be what’s lacking at the moment: applications that create real ‘wow’.

There is some excellent content out there: the BBC interactive spacewalk, a 360 film version of David Attenborough’s coral reef documentary and others. All interesting, well executed projects. None though has the depth, interaction or immersion that’s going to be needed to make VR a must-have for consumers (as opposed to gamers).

However, with attendees from across gaming, VR, broadcast and film it’s clear that plenty in the creative sector are looking at virtual reality applications.

What does the consumer think?

The evidence for consumer adoption of virtual reality was harder to determine. The opening session suggested that almost 50% of consumers would consider buying a headset within the next 12 months. There was no clarification of the data or sampling presented to support this claim. So what does published data tell us?

Well consumers are certainly interested: a US survey showed that 91% of consumers have a positive view of VR and it’s potential. Yet potential isn’t an indicator of the sales of VR devices. However, consumers do recognise the breadth of applications for virtual reality beyond games which is a positive.

Other research sounds a more cautious note with trial being one of the biggest challenges especially among the key 18 – 35 year old audience. The report also highlights the risk this presents:

“If people don’t have the opportunity to try before they buy, it will limit headset sales and risk a backlash from people who have spent a great deal of money on the strength of the hype, but are disappointed with the reality of VR.”

Futuresource Consulting

Virtual reality is coming…

Virtual reality is definitely an exciting technology. With several hardware devices launched this year and more to follow, consumer interest is only going to grow.

A real explosion in adoption will need a killer piece of content. It’s impossible to know what that is or when it’ll appear. At the moment there’s little content that appeals beyond curiosity. Brands like John Lewis creating a VR version of their ad are great PR but aren’t going to convert masses of consumers.

VR is for the early adopters. 2017 may be the year it becomes more visible. Market forecasts show VR headset sales really growing from 2019 onwards. All indications are then, that mass adoption is a few years away.


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