Over the last few months there has been a lot of hype surrounding an immersive new type of video. Commonly referred to as virtual reality or spherical video, it allows the viewer to get a complete 360 degree view of an environment, and freely move their point of vision by tilting and turning their device.
The buzz surrounding this trend is palpable -- it feels like announcements of new 360 camera hardware, software, and videos come out of the woodwork on a daily basis. But while the tool presents exciting new opportunities, it hasn’t quite matured yet and still has a lot of growing pains.
It’s important to consider the value of “this next big thing” and assess whether 360 video is the right choice for your content marketing, at least for the time being.
The ability to guide the viewer's eye
Imagine a scene set on a tropical beach. The camera begins on a wide view of the emerald blue sea, before zooming in on someone jogging along the beach. In this way the viewer’s attention is directed to what the director wants them to be looking at.
Now imagine that you have this same scene with 360 video. You wobble your device around trying to figure out how it works. You look at a palm tree, try and fail to follow a seagull flying across the sky, and if you’re lucky notice there is someone on the beach, just as they run out of the scene.
With 360 video, the user can manipulate the recorded camera angle by tilting and panning on their device. But this freedom comes with a catch: the loss of true storytelling. While the ability to choose where you look offers an interactive experience, it also blows storytelling out of the water, and makes it difficult to guide the viewer’s eye.
Unlike watching a movie that transports you through the director’s vision, users make their own personal field-of-view version of the story.
If it isn’t broken, don't fix it
Traditional video marketing works. Studies show more than half of companies are already making use of the medium to forge an emotional connection between viewers and their brand with great results.
Successful video content provokes emotional responses in the viewer. The sparkly decorations and bright red Santas in end of year Coca Cola adverts, for example, makes us subconsciously think about Coca Cola and how it can be useful in our lives.
Kelly Fong, a content editor at 2U, argues that when viewers feel emotional responses they think, “What do I make of this, and what can I do about this?” These naturally lead us to share by word-of-mouth, or to re-share on social media.
This shareability is an extremely important selling point of traditional video, which 360 video -- at its current stage-- is lacking. It is the emotive responses we have which provoke us to share video with others, and without basic storytelling, these reactions are challenging to achieve.
Molded for mobile
But 360 video is still in its first stage of evolution. As VR technology and mobile devices advance, 360 video will become more relevant and find its place in the market. People will be able to enjoy the immersive experience in its full glory, because right now, watching a 360 video on the small screen of a smartphone doesn't do it justice.
On the other hand, traditional video has been honed for modern, busy consumers who are constantly on the move. From full screen ads, to one-click links to share on social media, marketers have mastered the art of video content marketing. Cisco predicts that consumer Internet video traffic will go from 64% in 2014 to surpass 80% by 2019, securing video as the future of content marketing.
As mobile and VR technology advances, 360 video will evolve into something much more powerful. But as it stands, outside of specific fields such as advertising events, travel, locations, and real estate, it's hard to find a good use for the everyday content marketer.With 360 video, the risk is that the audience loses focus, and as a result, fails to engage with the content. It's like giving a kid a pair of binoculars at a theater production: they might be peering through the lenses, but not necessarily following the plot.