VR/AR Reaches ‘Fever Pitch’

Fusion has been working with NASA to develop Mars 2030, which will provide users with an interactive virtual reality expedition on Mars.

With major companies like Facebook’s Oculus, Sony, HTC, Samsung and others launching new virtual reality devices this year, the 2016 NAB Show will provide a notable preview of the newest technologies for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

“It is very early days and we’re still in the prerelease phase on some of the devices,” says Ted Schilowitz, futurist at 20th Century Fox, which has been producing VR content at the Fox Innovation Lab based on such movies as “The Martian.” “But companies, big studios and big directors are getting involved.”

Schilowitz will moderate today’s Creative Master Series session “Virtual Reality: Immersive Storytelling Meets Interactive Technology.”

“The market is really converging to a point where there will be a lot more content and hardware starting to come online this year,” said DJ Roller, a session panelist during Wednesday’s Virtual Reality Summit and cofounder of NextVR, which has worked with Fox Sports, Turner and a number of other companies to produce content. “I’ve been around the world talking to rights holders and creators and I’ve never seen rights holders in such a fever pitch for a new medium as they are about virtual reality.”

So far a who’s who of major media players have started to immerse themselves in VR, including CBS, CNN, Discovery, DirecTV, the Disney|ABC Television Group, Fox Sports, Fusion, NBCUniversal, Sky, Syfy, Turner Sports, 20th Century Fox, The New York Times, Gannett Co. Inc. and The Wall St. Journal.

Fox Sports, for example, has already shot VR footage at five events, with three of them distributed to the public. “We view VR as very complementary to our broadcast,” said David Nathanson, head of Business Operations, Fox Sports. “Anything that brings the sports fan closer to the game, we think will make them more loyal to the broadcast.”

Besides producing VR versions of their coverage of golf and basketball events. Fox Sports has also created a VR experience for NASCAR racing.

Besides producing VR versions of their coverage of golf and basketball events. Fox Sports has also created a VR experience for NASCAR racing.

Early movers are also reporting very strong interest from advertisers and agencies, with Toyota working with both Fox Sports and Discovery.

“Many advertisers are being very aggressive in trying to figure out VR,” says Suzanne Kolb, executive vice president and general manager of Discovery Digital Networks, which launched the Discovery VR app in September. “The relationship we’ve had with Toyota is an example of that…It lets the viewer experience with the product become much more immersive.”

How quickly this interest will translate into a thriving VR media landscape remains, however, open to question.

On the production side, Michael Davies, senior vice president, Field and Technical Operations at Fox Sports, said that “VR is much easier than 3D. With a 3D broadcast you needed a whole new crew, another truck and different camera positions, while virtual reality is a pretty small footprint.” Davies also is a session panelist during the Wednesday’s Virtual Reality Summit.

Even so, the medium will take time to develop.

“Our feeling is that the more pricey headsets that are coming onto the market this year are going to be relegated to gaming,” said Matthew Chiavelli, senior vice president of Syfy Digital, whose teams created a VR experience tied to their series “The Expanse.” “It is going to be an interesting year as people try to get the content out there, knowing that only a limited number of viewers can see it.”

To get around that problem, Syfy distributed more than 13,000 Google Cardboard sets at Comic-Con in San Diego last year to promote “The Expanse” with VR content.

Mike Cavender, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Organization (RTDNA) said that major news organizations have been particularly bullish on the technology, but the costs and lack of distribution have discouraged most local TV stations. “For stations it is still very nascent,” he said.

The lack of devices and the likelihood that those devices will be much more expensive makes AR seem even further away, though a number of executives view it as a very promising technology.

“Augmented reality provides an opportunity to have an experience that is less isolated experiences that are more integrated with current reality,” said Julian Reyes, lead VR producer at Fusion.

In partnership with NASA, Fusion recently demoed an interactive first-person expedition to Mars called “Mars 2030” that will be available in the summer of 2016 on a variety of VR platforms.

In the meantime, vendors and producers will be discussing what they’ve learned from recent productions and will highlighting a number of new technologies at NAB Show during booth visits, VR demos and various VR-themed sessions.

“We are really trying to figure out how these technologies play into our storytelling and how VR capture differs from regular linear capture,” said Skarpi Hedinsson, chief technology officer of the Disney|ABC Television Group.

As part of that effort, ABC News has done several VR stories in Syria, North Korea and Africa, and ABC has developed a VR experience tied to its primetime show “Quantico,” he said. It is also producing VR content for “Nashville” to be tied to the last few episodes of the show this season.

“It is definitely a medium that suits news and entertainment well,” said Hedinsson.

But he cautions that producers still face the challenge of building VR experiences for different devices, and that content creators need to rethink some traditional linear storytelling techniques.

“There are issues [such as where] you place the camera and crew when you have a 360[-degree] view,” he said. “You have to be very thoughtful about how you tell the story.”

Jason Farkas, executive producer of CNNVR, agreed. He noted they decided to use a voiceover for their VR coverage of the Republican debate so viewers weren’t distracted by an on-camera correspondent.

“One of the things we’ve attempted to do is break the rules,” he said. “Everyone says not to move the camera, but in the Republican debate we used a gyroscopic camera and we found that the movement was very effective.

“When it was launched, CNN changed the way people wanted to interact with news with a 24-hour news network,” he said. “In some ways VR offers the same opportunity to take you inside the news in a way that cable did 30 years ago.”

VR/AR Roundup

The Virtual & Augmented Reality Pavilion, which is sponsored by Technicolor and G-Technology, is located in the North Hall and features a number of sessions beginning today and running through Thursday.

Visitors to the pavilion can meet with content producers and technology companies that are changing the way we consume information. Among the 20+ exhibitors in the pavilion are: ArgonDesign Solutions, Assimilate, CHIC, Dashwood360VR, Kodak PIXPRO Digital Cameras, LiveLike, Mettle, NextVR, OwlReality, Shanghai Zhizun Electronic Technology and SpheriCam.

The pavilion also will include Kaleidoscope VR Showcase, produced in partnership with NAB Show and presented by JAUNT. The three-day content showcase offers the “best of” from their 2015 world tour, featuring VR films from Hollywood, to Europe, to South America and beyond. Attendees can view innovative narrative, environmental and interactive content, and discover work that harnesses the transformative potential of presence.

Wednesday afternoon offers the Virtual Reality Summit with a session lineup that explores recent developments in the technology, art and business of VR, from audio to streaming to market projections.