VR, AR, 360, AI… A-Why?
I’m not exactly sure why, but it seems like over the past couple of months I am getting constantly bombarded with conversations about the future of content creation and media consumption — VR, AR, MR, XR, AI, and whatever other new acronym we decide to throw around. And yes while I realize that AI is much different than the others, it still seems to be involved in the same conversations about “the future.”
Maybe it’s coincidence, maybe it’s because work slows down at this time of year, maybe it’s because we ponder the future more as the year draws to an end, who knows? Maybe it’s social media and search algorithms re-targeting me with related content; but that doesn’t directly explain the real life conversations and presentations I’ve been engaging with (unless AI has already sneakingly infiltrated our real world, or you know, we’re living inside of the Matrix).
And to be honest with you I quite enjoy the discussion; I love thinking about the future and where our industry and society in general is headed. I’m a huge tech head, I love gadgets, I subscribe to /r/futureporn (SFW I promise), I love content that pushes the limits of technology, I have a huge fascination with science, robotics, technology, AI, etc, but here’s the thing — I think a lot of what we’re being told is “the future” is, well, rubbish.
Before you decide to crucify me; let me just show you a picture of the last time VR was “the future.”
1995 just rang, it wants its gimmick back.
And while I’m at it, do you remember that time when 3D TVs were “the future?” Well not to kick a horse while it’s down, but, yeah — take that stupid 3D horse! And the cinema? 3D ticket sales fell to 14% last year, compared to their peak in 2010 (spearheaded by James Cameron’s Avatar) of just 21%.
So why? Well it’s kind of simple, any gamers here? Can you name me one add-on device that hasn’t failed? I can’t either. Hell, the Sega CD and Sega 32X were such a big failure that the company never really turned back around.
See the thing is, people are lazy (sorry! But you are, yes, you). We don’t want to have to really “do” anything more to engage with our content once it stops being a cool gimmick. 3D films peaked because Avatar made it a gimmick, but once everyone started doing it, wearing those glasses just proved too annoying.
Things that have historically succeeded are evolutions not revolutions. Digital publications are evolutions of newspapers and magazines. Netflix and video streaming is an evolution of television and traditional video formats.
And don’t get me wrong, I may come across as super skeptical, but I do actually think these technologies have a place in content creation and publishing. But what I haven’t seen in any of these discussions is “why?” What is the insight? Why do you want to create 360 video instead of traditional video? How does it enhance the message you’re trying to convey? And higher engagement is not the answer because, what is engagement? I haven’t seen anyone really answer that yet. If you tell me it’s stream length or completion, then of course that is higher, it’s still a gimmick and people aren’t fatigued by the format. But unless you nail the “why?” and tell a story that is relevant to the technology, then people are just engaging with the format and not with your message.
In the long term, do you really see your audience during their commute home, stretching their arm out and moving their device around to engage with your 360 video? Or popping a headset on to engage with VR once the novelty has worn off and it just becomes an annoyance? And hey, when’s the last time you played Pokemon Go?
Now the “it’s the future” chatter seems to have moved to audio, and we’re being told we’ll be wearing “hearables” and consuming media that way. The biological fact that our hearing isn’t wired the same way as our vision and that we can’t focus on more than one set of audio information at a time (ever tried having a phone conversation while listening to an audio book?) aside, I just have to ask; why?
Look I think audio is amazing, my first degree is in Audio Production, music and sound is my passion and it is an amazing tool for telling stories and conveying information; but expecting people to jam a device into their ear and then thinking they’ll be okay with advertisers ramming messages directly into their skulls is a huge stretch of the imagination.
In fact one company that kind of does this already is Spotify. They assume you’re listening, and then bombard you with ads. But the thing is, Spotify isn’t really trying to stream you ads, what it’s trying to do is annoy you just enough to buy a premium membership and get rid of the interruptions. They know their ads are annoying, that’s why they have them. In fact last year Spotify’s paid subscription revenue was US$2.76billion compared to $308million in ad-supported revenue. That’s a whole lot of people that are willing to pay money NOT to have advertisements wedged into their headphones.
It seems that content creation and content publication is succumbing to the same pitfalls that cinema has over the two decades; thinking that technology and spectacle can replace good story telling. But to that all I have to say is this; the Prequel Trilogy sucked, long live the Original Trilogy! Death to Jar Jar Binks!
Look, this is just a rant, so I’ll close by saying use whatever technology you have at hand to tell or deliver a message, but make sure it’s supported by a strong answer to the one question that should move everything forward; why?