How real will virtual become?

How real will virtual become?

The broadcast industry is under siege as never before, media consumers consume content on a plethora of screens from a wealth of new entrants competing for ever decreasing attention spans.

No one has unlimited financial resources or a crystal ball so the question is always “...which ‘horse’ do I back with my limited capex and opex budgets?” For most, simply looking over the shoulder to see what others are doing doesn’t sit comfortably either.

I’m always fascinated that we appear to stumble across technologies that the consumer buys into seemingly by mistake, or at least not with 100% certainty that a device or application will be a “winner”. This absence of certainty is what makes things interesting for people like me. If not so interesting for the companies investing $$m in R&D or those whose business a new technology disrupts.

We all know the success of the tablet market today but why was the iPad so successful when others weren’t? The launch of the iPad wasn’t the first tablet “PC” style device of its kind. Microsoft and HP tried it back in 2004 and failed.

Then there’s the smartphone; the iPhone wasn’t the first. Compaq (remember them?) tried with the iPAQ PDA and a few others with similar devices (running a Microsoft OS) tried it back in the mid 2000s. Then there’s Apple with its ill fated Newton; Palm Pilots, Blackberrys and so on. While not a complete failures, they didn’t realise anything like the success of the iPhone and its subsequent followers. Some say it was the absence of apps and the ability for 3rd parties to develop on the new platforms that made the difference. And while the OS on all of the aforementioned devices were okay at the time, they weren’t open.

So, how is this relevant to the latest surge in interest in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented VR (AVR)? I believe that this technology has the potential to be one of the “next big consumer things” if the tablet and smartphone experience are anything to go by and we are smart about it. Originally designed and intended for gaming, the rapidly emerging VR and AVR technologies have the potential to be applied to so many different uses or applications it can start to make one's head hurt.

In our world of media, using VR to place the consumer in the middle of the action at a live major sports event, a music festival, a drama production are just three easy examples. There are many more.

With an open mind, an open platform and further advances in hardware and software, the possibilities become endless. Enhance the consumer experience with additional complimentary apps and you can build something very powerful.

So, should broadcasters consider VR and AVR as tools to combat the threat of the disruptors? Should we be thinking about building the technology capacity within the media infrastructure to flex and scale rather than deal with a backlog of difficult growth and investment needs to take advantage of such things as HD, 4k, HDR and HFR, as we have done in the past? It’s all about the business case. Many media organisations struggle to identify a clear business case for investing in many of the new emerging technologies such as 4k, HDR etc. VR and AVR is very different where the business case is clear as the significance of what VR and AVR technology can provide for the consumer is a lot clearer. The key here is to develop strategies that encompass business, technology, operational and change for the rapidly emerging VR and AVR.

So, going full-circle, to say the success of the tablet and smartphone as platforms for consuming media was a complete surprise, that caught most media organisations off-guard, is a lame excuse, considering the first consumer devices were around 12 years ago. Hindsight is always 20/20 I hear you say and it's very true but is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome ever a credible strategy. Of course it’s not.

Should our previous experience be taken into account especially with the rapid growth in this emerging technology? If I were a betting man, I would say definitely. I would also say it's worth being up there with first to market.

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Andrew Ioannou

Expert in broadcast technology strategy innovation and systems implementation.