The Medium is the Message*
Immersive media (VR and AR) has a visible effect on its consumers, and therefore, on those who ‘consume’ the message. However, until a brand can deliver immersive experiences that can truly connect with their audience, the benefits of this medium are out of reach.
That’s why VR is the modern day space race for advertising and creative agencies, said Andy Jones, CTO at PSYOP. Like any other agency PSYOP like to say yes to all projects, and this means working in new media with immersive technology. Last week, I caught up with the team at PSYOP to learn about their move from PSYOP.TV to a PSYOP that stands out notably in its ability to produce modular and effective immersive brand experiences.
Entry into a new field is not without its challenges. While brands are looking for VR/AR experiences, PSYOP is also actively looking for new ways to innovate and build the creative possibilities for XR*, said Matthew Seymour, Executive Producer at PSYOP.
When a brand approaches PSYOP with a pitch, the company works closely with them so that they understand what the technological capabilities are, said Seymour. Although, when a client asks for a specific project, this can also catalyze the creative process that leads PSYOP to innovate new ways to create and deliver content, he said.
In terms of where we are now for XR experiences, in the quest to colonize Mars, we are only in the outer atmosphere of Earth, said Jones. With the projected economic impact of VR/AR technologies by 2020 (medium adoption) estimated at US$15.6bn, it’s critical that agencies wanting to thrive in the new era must continue to experiment and create content in new media.
PSYOP have worked with a number of their repeat clients to create the latest XR experiences, and are introducing the idea to new clients. The more they work with a client in XR content production, the more their clients are aware of the technical dimensions of this new format, and of what they can expect from an XR experience.
The Realities Of An XR Audience
Advertising is expensive. Developing 360° video can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and a fully interactive ad costs upwards of US $500 000. Brands need to make a return on this investment, and this means reaching the greatest number of eyes.
This is why PSYOP is very interested in AR, as everyone has a mobile device, said Seymour. The integration of an AR experience is easy, he said, using the example of Eminem’s show at Coachella. For this experience, the audience used Eminem’s app, although with advances in phone camera hardware, users will soon no longer have to go through a third party app to view an AR experience.
On the other hand, the issue with virtual reality is that HMDs (head mounted displays, or headsets), which are required for the experience, are not widely used by consumers so it’s not a great way to get a return on investment for our clients, explained Seymour.
He gives their CTO Jones credit for teaching Oculus how to do live render VR so that it can be streamed through other platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and other viewing channels available on mobile devices that are currently PSYOP’s primary focus.
At the end of the day, it’s brands that face the challenge of distribution in this medium, so PSYOP must consider any technical limitations that XR may pose to their clients’ ability to reach viewers. Different publication streams for VR include the Oculus store, Viveport, Steam VR, and then in 2D format on Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.
When asked about LBE* Seymour said that this has yet to show the same return on investment as these other formats. Usually, LBEs are costly projects that are one-off experiences.
Adapting XR To The Real World Of Viewers
Other than reaching eyes, XR content creators have many considerations when it comes to this new medium and understanding how it is experienced by viewers across platforms. For example, a live rendered scene can by played in VR, but then must be comprehensible in 2-D as well, such as on YouTube and Facebook.
The transition between 2-D and 3-D presents a variety of challenges when it comes to 360° versus 2-D narrative. For example, character gestures that may be used to guide the narrative in 360°, may not make sense when exported to 2-D. Sound is also key to 360° narrative, but the effect of these storytelling aids must be thoroughly tested for transitioning across platforms.
Building Another Reality
Aside from creating narrative, agencies are also responsible for bringing stories to life, and this takes top talent. To make one of these experiences is more than vision, it takes a keen knowledge of new technology and an understanding of human psychology.
As a part of their operations, PSYOP partnered with BLACKLIST, as sister company and a collective of curated artists who they can reach out to for specific projects, said Amanda Miller, Executive Producer at PSYOP.
However, despite the numerous freelancers and curated artists, it’s still a challenge for PSYOP to find talent in software such as the popular Unreal Engine that supports cinematic and real time animation.
PSYOP leans towards this type of real time animation that uses a motion capture system to puppet a 3D character live (in real time). This means that the motions are rendered fast enough that the user can move around in or react to their environment in real time. This saves resources down the line as they have movements sequenced and characters they can re-use for later experiences.
One of PSYOP’s primary partners for motion capture is Xsens who I had the chance to meet at VRLA this year, as well as earlier this week for a demo of their motion capture suits. These innovative motion capture suits allow PSYOP to create the majority of their content in house.
New Dimensions Overall
It was over the last few weeks that I noticed PSYOP changed their site from PSYOP.TV to PSYOP. They are seeing a greater range of requests from TV to 3D and VR/AR. Not only is there new media, but project demands see more in breadth and scope from dimension, reality, time (duration) and type of experience (interactive, gamified, single/ multiple person audience).
Miller, who works in television, often identifies gamified versions of a storyline intended for TV that can be developed into an immersive experience. This tactic encourages an audience to revisit the experience in new formats.
Why New Media?
Regardless of how much effort is put into content creation, if no one sees it, no value is created. VR is one of the most powerful experiences that brands can offer, but the space race is not without turbulence.*
As agencies and brands experiment in different media, there’s always that question, why VR?
In this case, VR doesn’t bring the most eyes or value to a piece itself, but it is able to generate value with deliverables across platforms. At the end of the day, there is no other medium that is capable of delivering the experiences made possible with VR, not to mention the higher levels of audience engagement, longer view-through rates, and a greater likelihood that the experience will be shared afterwards via word of mouth.
When it comes to VR, we don’t always have to use the latest and greatest in hardware to have a good experience. There’s a steep price associated with headsets, but Google cardboards are a non-sophisticated way to experience VR, with numerous style options available.
Still, it’s the gaming industry that leads the field in VR, and gamers will continue to fuel the demand for VR content. It’s likely they will soon begin to see greater brand presence during their VR gaming experiences.
* “The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in any message it would transmit or convey, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.
*XR- mixed reality, including virtual and augmented reality
* LBE- Location based entertainment
*Turbulence: while there is no turbulence in space as we know it on Earth, solar winds and electromagnetic interaction creates space’s equivalent as ‘solar wind turbulence’.