Is Storytelling the Key to VR’s Future?

on May 23, 2016

A few weeks back, I attended the Collision Conference in New Orleans. This is my favorite “food city” so, when I found out Collision would be held in the Crescent City, I booked a flight and made a point to attend this year’s event. Collision has become one of the best shows for up and coming startups with a conference program that caters to them and a broader industry audience wanting to keep up with what’s new in tech.

I like to go to this show just to talk to these young entrepreneurs from all over the world who come to pitch their startups and get noticed. I saw over 100 new companies showing everything from new travel apps to new vertical social networks and a host of others dealing with health, education, regional solutions, and finance.

They all got to spend about seven minutes pitching their startups on a “Pitch” stage and they had a small kiosk in the demo area where everyone could come by and check out what they were doing. This to me has become a really worthwhile show to attend and one that keeps my perspective on the startup world fresh each year.

As you can imagine, VR was a hot topic at the show and there were multiple sessions on this subject during the conference. But there was one session that really stuck out to me. Its focus was on VR being a new platform for storytelling. The panel included two executives from Samsung, David Eun of Samsung’s Global Innovation Center and Marc Mathieu from Samsung Electronics America. Also on the panel was Jacques Methe of Cirque Du Soleil Media.

All three focused on the fact VR is set to become one of the most important tools for telling stories, whether by professionals or regular consumers. In fact, Mr Methe of Cirque du Soleil said VR, “Is inventing a new way to tell a story.” He referenced Cirque Du Soleil’s 360-degree VR app in the Oculus Store called KURIO. He said they “put the 360-degree camera in the center of the performance and people come up and say hi, putting you in the center of the action.” I have played with this app and it was one of the first VR videos I saw that made me realize how VR will someday revolutionize all forms of entertainment. If you have a Samsung Galaxy VR headset and a Samsung smartphone 5, 6 or 7, I encourage you to download the Cirque Du Soleil KURIO VR app to see for yourself how this could change story telling within the entertainment industry.

Mr Mathieu of Samsung said that, when cavemen came back from a hunt, they told the story of the hunt in pictures in a cave on the walls. Eventually, storytelling was moved to a frame in paintings and pictures where it has stayed for the centuries. Even today, our HD video is shown within a frame whether it is on a TV, PC, tablet, or a smartphone. According to Mr. Matheiu, 360-degree VR breaks us out of that frame and delivers the scene as if one was at the event and viewing it from the center of the action. He went on to say, “This may be the closest to teleportation we will ever have in our lifetime”. I agree with that view. The really good VR apps puts you in the center of the story and tells it all around you in 360-degree views.

David Eun agreed that professional storytelling like the content from Cirque Du Soliel would be big, but he added he felt normal consumers may actually create the greatest amount of content over time for themselves and their friends. He said to imagine capturing your child’s first steps with a 360-degree video camera and, using the proper goggles, go back and relive this any time you wished. VR puts you back into the experience so that it is always there to view in the future. One could imagine putting a 360-degree VR camera on the table at a child’s birthday party and being able to share that experience with the other parents who were not there. Or using a 360-video camera at a wedding and placing it at the center of the ceremony so friends and relatives who did not attend could view the ceremony as if they had.

To that end last February. Samsung introduced their 360-degree camera and expects it to be a key content creation tool for consumers and semi-professionals to use to tell their VR stories for use especially with the Gear VR in the near future.

Our research at Creative Strategies on VR shows that user-created content will be an important catalyst to getting consumers to back VR in the future. But what is not clear from our research to date is what type of VR headsets or platforms consumers will adopt to drive VR into a broader consumer mass market. The prices are too high on the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive to see any serious interest from consumers beyond the high-end gaming market. But the Samsung Gear VR headset and the low-end Google Cardboard headsets are too low quality to really drive broad adoption, although Mr. Eun of Samsung said they have sold over 1 million Samsung Great headsets to date.

The good news is the industry is moving fast to try and create new VR headsets at better prices. In my column next week, I will report on what I found while on a trip to China a few weeks ago to check with suppliers on what the Chinese are doing create top of the line headsets at cheaper prices.

But, after listening to the folks on this VR panel at Collision and especially hearing Mr. Jacques Methe of Cirque Du Soleil talk so excitedly about how his organization is embracing VR as the next big thing in storytelling, I am convinced storytelling could be at least one of the killer apps that will drive VR adoption in the future.