Stories Still Matter: Takeaways from #VRDayATL Conference

Whenever new technology takes hold in the content (or marketing) space, there is always a timeline for how long it will take creators to do something interesting rather than use it just for the sake of using it. This was true with radio, television, social media, and will likely continue with every new space that pops up.

A great example of this is Virtual Reality (VR). VR programming has been around for a while now, yet still hovers right on the edge of the mainstream. What once seemed very science-fictiony (a word) has evolved to the point where it can really wow the senses, but it still hasn’t broken into widespread consumer usage. Why is that?

My recent experience at #VRDayATL hosted by Georgia State University helped shed a little light on this question. Here’s what I learned:

Lesson 1: TV is radio, and VR is TV.

lucille-ballBefore the development of television, there was radio. Being an audio-only platform, the content created for the medium had to play within certain parameters. Then television arrived, and even though visuals were now available, for a while people continued to program it as if it were radio, only now there was a camera involved. Not very exciting! Only when studios began creating content built to exploit television’s visual capabilities did the medium take hold, with early favorites like I Love Lucy and The Ed Sullivan Show.

Such is the state of VR right now. The technology is impressive, yes, but too much of what is being produced is simply repurposed television content. For VR to become a true staple, people need to create with VR in mind first. That will come with time, and those that create with that focus will see success more quickly. Samsung’s recent 4D offering at CES is a great example of the potential of the platform.

Lesson 2: 360-video needs to become the norm for VR to truly take off.

VR is very impressive but requires investment to produce and play, both for the developer and the consumer. 360-degree video technology, on the other hand, is reasonably affordable and requires nothing from the consumer other than an up-to-date browser. While not exactly from the same generation, these technologies do need to evolve together in order to produce an effective VR experience.

Whereas VR is still somewhat a mythical creature to the public, 360 is set up to become much more accessible more rapidly. The more people become familiar with 360 and its potential, the easier it will be for them to imagine investing in VR. So it’s important that we work on populating 360-degree content in the mainstream sooner than later.

Lesson 3: Technology is great, but story still matters most.

We see this all the time across every content medium, particularly in movies and video games. The latest graphics and effects are wonderful, but they are nothing without solid stories behind them. Unsurprisingly, the top VR experts at the conference repeatedly reinforced this to attendees.

Don’t focus your efforts on gadgets and wizardry – it may work the first time someone experiences it, but eventually the novelty wears off. As Jami Becker, the CEO of Nektr said, “The solution is the experience, not the technology.”

This is right on, and something we always try to keep in mind when planning activations. Stories are relatable, technology is not.

Craft your story and let VR (or holograms, or any other technical advancements) layer dimensions onto the experience instead of the other way around. In this way, you’re way more likely to create a connection with the audience you seek.

Micah Hart is the Director of Content and Strategy for IMG LIVE.