We begin this week’s VR Vs with a quick look back at last week’s piece, which you might recall was on the subject of 360 degree video and how people who are anti-360 degree because it isn’t ‘proper’ virtual reality (VR) should (in my opinion anyway) just accept it and move on. Because ultimately 360 benefits VR sales and helps as another path introducing people to the possibilities of headsets. I had some interesting messages on Twitter and in my email including some explaining to me (at some length) how I was wrong because 360 isn’t ‘proper’ VR as it isn’t interactive. (I suspect some of those people didn’t quite read the article, considering the main point of it was ‘yes – but does it actually matter?’). I did want to take a moment though to highlight a piece on Medium.com by Preetam Mukherjee that was written in semi-response to both what I wrote and that written in another article by Ben Smith. It’s a good read and goes more into the technicalities than I did. Ultimately of course each has their own opinion, but I’d certainly recommend it as something of a companion piece to my own article if you’re still weighing up your position.
That being said, let’s get onto the topic of the day.
Something has been happening in the recent weeks and months and I wonder if you’ve noticed it. On VRFocus we have reported about how a number of mainstream media companies have been acquiring or alternatively have invested in VR and augmented reality (AR) studios. Others still have begun doing deals to put infrastructure in place. We’ve had AOL acquiring the studio RYOT specifically for use with The Huffington Post. Two of China’s big broadcasting companies agreed to a partnership to create a VR content network in the country. News Corp Australia decided to invest in AR company Flippar, HBO have invested in OTOY and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head.
Despite VR being a relatively new technology and a lot of people advising caution with it, it still feels like a bit of a tech gold rush at the moment. As people and companies make their moves, racing over and hammering claim signs into prospective studios to reap the benefits not necessarily now but later. It’s prospecting with multimillion dollar pans, essentially. Which is why the recent news from Netflix that they are not looking, at least not yet anyway, into VR content has rather stuck in my mind. Not just for the amusement that Netflix have essentially decided to (Netflix and) chill on VR, but because I am curious if their caution might turn around and bite them in something of a reversal of their ascent.
It’s a tad different given they are a supplier of other people’s content, but still one of the reasons Netflix is such a powerful online force was their investment in video streaming at a time when internet speeds and PC developments had opened the door for it to be truly viable. Whilst it made the play and the jump from DVD-by-mail to streaming; traditional media creators were, at the time, a bit slow on the uptake. To give you an example closer to home, the BBC’s iPlayer is a fantastic service… Now. But you may forget or not even know that it was horrendously late in appearing and the BBC were repeatedly criticised for missing the boat and not foreseeing nor adequately investing in what was to come. It’s exactly the same way that traditional retail has, in general, been too slow to react to the rise of online shopping which gave way to Amazon being the name many associate with buying things online. Yes, everyone is now established, but it was Amazon who stole the march and became the online retail brand – one that continues to diversify. It’s YouTube and Netflix which have become the online brands for video content.
Now though, whilst YouTube looks to VR and 360 as a way forward, Netflix is content to just have the existing service supported. The company that once pushed hard and gained the advantage is now waiting and seeing on VR. Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But it is worth pointing out that everyone else has seemingly learnt from their mistake of a decade prior. The BBC, who I mentioned earlier, is interested and is working in VR. Discovery is working in VR and HBO is looking into VR as I mentioned earlier also, Fox is already bringing sports into VR, Time Warner have invested, Disney have invested. Movie studios like Dreamworks and directors are looking into both AR and VR potential. CNBC, Syfy, CNN, everyone is getting involved.
Whilst they are unlikely to get in severe trouble, it feels strange that at a time when everyone else is looking towards that future and are making moves to be ready one, of the biggest names in video is happy to sit on the sidelines. Being comfortable or playing it safe is one thing but complacency is another; to put it another way, at the moment whilst everyone else is in the game and getting their pieces in position Netflix haven’t even set up the board yet. Complacency about the ‘established order’ of watching films and TV contributed to help put Netflix in the ascendance in first place.
I’d’ve thought though they might take just a little more interest in a development that will affect them now they’re a big part of that order.