Commentary

Virtual TV, Virtual Ads? Perhaps A Virtual Media Dream -- Or Nightmare

Virtual reality could be the next big thing -- for TV content producers, and maybe even advertisers. But how and when? And haven’t we seen this movie before?

At the recent Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona, two major media company executives talked up virtual reality: Chris Jaffe, vp of product innovation of Netflix and Martin Sorrell, chief executive officer of WPP Group.

Netflix discussed its virtual experience efforts with Samsung, launching the Samsung Gear VR Netflix app and content for Samsung Oculus Gear.

But for this initial Netflix effort, the content isn’t virtual reality -- just a standard flat video displayed in a 360-degree environment. It simulates a virtual living room to sit in and watch Netflix on a virtual screen.

WPP’s Sorrell also talked this up at the same mobile conference: “The VR thing is really very interesting.” But remarks were couched from a lone experience he had: "Maybe I was just very influenced by what I saw at Sundance with Ridley Scott's film ‘The Martian.’”

Sorrell believes VR “is sort of game-changing”for advertisers. What kind of executions? He thinks a full suite of media opportunities are on the table, ncluding travel, sports, live events, gaming and entertainment. “Fantastic,” he says.

Sorrell can see WPP investing in VR because it’s about stuff WPP already invests in: technology, data and content.

Still, you might wonder whether advertising and/or TV-film executives are too euphoric about VR. Does it remind you of any technological media revolutions in the recent past? Is VR a little more that this year’s 3D TV promise?

VR proponents will say 3D was a TV technology thing, for many old technology. New virtual reality is about new tech -- now bulky-looking headsets, with the promise of sleeker consumer products down the line.

Headsets aren’t my thing. I suggest waiting for holographic media. So, for example, when you enter a 7-Eleven, a scene from “Big Bang Theory” floats in front of your eyes — followed by a drifting image of an orange creme Slurpee. Now, that’s fantastic.

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