Immersive, isolated and intense: The 360-degree VR experience

Digital strategists and content creators discuss the power and pitfalls of the new technology at CES 2016

LAS VEGAS — Consumers this week jumped at the chance to get their hands on one of the first general market virtual reality devices — Facebook’s Oculus Rift VR headset sold out minutes after it became available on Wednesday. People are clearly excited about virtual reality, but digital content experts at CES 2016 warned that even though there may be an appetite for VR, marketers should be cautious about how they put it to use.  

Digital strategists and content creators on yesterday’s OMD-hosted panel "Virtual Reality: The Dawn of a New Era in Media & Marketing" discussed both the storytelling power of the technology and its potential to produce negative consumer experiences. Sometimes, virtual reality can be too real for some, they warned.

Create Advertising Group’s Jake Black, a movie and television trailer editor who created an IMAX VR experience for last year’s movie "The Walk," said viewers could become so "scared and petrified" from the virtual interaction, they’ll rip off the headsets because "it’s too intense of an experience." As VR sets become more prevalent, Black predicted a ratings system (similar to those used for movies and games) will warn people about the intensity of the experience.

Besides scary content, bulky VR headsets themselves might be off-putting to users, said Dario Raciti, director of Zero Code. He noted that many users testing a VR experience during an NFL game wanted to take the sets off within a minute or so.

Currently, interacting with the VR world is something only one person can do at a time, so some brands might worry that it’s an isolating experience for consumers. But Discovery SVP of Digital Media Conal Byrne noted that VR is ultimately more about "connecting people, as opposed to isolating them." The New York Times’ NYT VR was reported to have over a million user engagements around Thanksgiving time, Raciti said, "because families were together and able to share with one another."

VR is currently popular in video games and sports, but Byrne said he’d love to see fans of Discovery shows like "Planet Earth" and "Survivorman" get a feel of living in the wild or experience the planet’s wonders virtually firsthand. "It’s one thing to watch ‘The Deadliest Catch’ on TV," said Byrne, "but another to literally be the person on the ship or become immersive in their world."

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