IAB Excited (And Cautious) About Virtual Reality

The Interactive Advertising Bureau just released a report that throws a lot of excitement and a lot of caution toward the current value of virtual reality advertising and suggests that really, everybody should just figure out what they’re talking about.

Distinguishing between what is VR and what is 360 degree video is a first step according to the report compiled with help from two dozen deep thinkers on the subject.

“As we discussed VR with publishers and advertisers, we wanted to make sure that we were all speaking the same language,” the report says. “Does everyone think of VR in the same way? Are there standard definitions for what constitutes VR? The short answer for both is ‘no.' ”

Definitions aside, there are fascinating opinions about what’s happening, and “innovators and technologists” at companies ranging from AOL and Time to LiveNation and Publicis weighed in.

The report advises against overhyping virtual reality.  Consumers could be disappointed that when they finally experience VR that the earth doesn’t really move, or even seem to do more than possibly make them nauseous.  

This calm-down approach from an advertising group seems pretty revolutionary to me. I still remember the thrill of that 500 channel cable universe John Malone rhapsodized. Man, when it finally happened, I was crushed!  

IAB plans a Q4 VR Summit to explore key issues and ways forward. (That sounds like it will be an interesting event, though given IAB’s anti-hyperbole stance, it’ll probably be  just another day away from the office.)

Really, though, I'd like to overhype a bit: VR can be mesmerizing, immersive and emotional. As I noted when I attended a few VR panels at the NAB convention, and in one of them CNN executive producer dubbed VR cameras “the empathy machine.”  Empathy seems to be an important operative word.

The report cites one contributor’s recollection of watching “The Displaced,”The New York Times heartbreaking VR about a few of the 30 million children displaced by wars: “As I was watching, I heard a plane overhead and it became louder, and I saw food drops happening. And you could see, as the food fell to the ground, people came running out to grab it. This was one of the most powerful things because it brings all your senses to life. I think VR is one of the most potent empathy engines. When you’re actually feeling like you’re there, you gain a whole new level of empathy for a subject.”

From a marketing and consumer standpoint, though, those VR headsets are just going against the social media trend. Virtual reality watching right now seems to be a solitary experience (plus, in my opinion, a pretty goony solitary experience).

Opera Mediaworks’ Andrew Scharkss and Andrew Dubatowka note in the report that advertisers have to know specifically what they’re doing when they choose virtual reality: “VR requires advertisers to have their use cases and applications in mind before they begin even developing a 360 ad, or any other related assets. VR has to be put front and center and made a priority, and that’s a big shift.”

Finally, how to charge advertisers? Here, the early answer seems to be cost-per-view. Just because I’m interested in emerging lingo, I was interested to read a new (to me) industry initialism. Immersv CEO Mihir Shah suggests charging based on a “gaze-through-rate,” or GTR, which he claims reaches 81% on Immersv’s mobile VR network. If that's typical, that’s a useful piece of cardboard. Gaze on.

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