The Northside Festival returns to Brooklyn for 2016 as the younger and more eccentric cousin to Austin’s South by Southwest. Unlike previous years, the festival evolved its film component into what is now known as content, but music and innovation components have stayed strong.
In past years, the Innovation aspect of the festival has been dominated by 3D, the social media landscape and social influencers, but the big push this year is virtual reality (VR). Yes that technology from the ‘90s is back and a lot of innovators are banking on it being a hit. Big tech is betting on VR from Samsung to Google and even The New York Times.
The New York Times is very active in the virtual reality space. Sebastian Tomich, Senior Vice President of Advertising and Innovation at The New York Times remarks, “Right now everyone is sort of jumping two feet in. We are investing heavily in this space.” He also notes that companies like The Times don’t want to miss out. “A lot of publishing companies sat around and watched YouTube 10- 15 years ago and said don’t worry about them we’ll run our own video. Obviously every single one of them regrets that decision now and with the impending release of Oculus, the Samsung gear marketplace, we’re not going to make that same mistake twice.” As for the future Tomich says, “I see a new number everyday: 250 billion, 2 trillion, 100 billion. It’s going to be a big market….The future is not going to be putting boxes on your head.
But Tomich is skeptical, “No one knows the future of where is this heading right now…My gut is that Oculas will not be the Christmas gift of the year like a lot of people are predicting it.” He postulates, “I have yet to see virtual reality experience that makes me think that [it’s better than] film [right now]. Can you imagine watching the Godfather in VR? There is a lot of things that VR can make better, but still there is sort of this magic around film.” He stresses the importance of using VR as a tool, “the important thing here is when we are thinking about 360, just because it is in 360, does not make it better.”
Tomich says he can see applications for virtual reality in industries like real estate 1) to allow brokers let potential buyers experience the home or 2) for live events, like music concerts or sporting events, or 3) even within the military for veterans dealing with PTSD. He explains virtual reality can bring transparency in news reports, but adds, “VR is just another tool at our disposal….No matter how fast technology evolved, technology can’t disrupt the need for a great story or the need for truth, it doesn’t matter. He concludes by saying, “We don’t do it just [be]cause we want to try VR. We do it because we have a great story to tell.”
Even panels, like “Why Video is the Future of Storytelling,” that were not directly connected to virtual reality found themselves drifting towards the topic. Christine Lane of ad agency McCann, notes the current struggle with the technology starts with those who see the technology as the story versus a tool. “I think you start with a great story,” but I see so many that “just want to use VR.” She admits the biggest struggle for the technology of course is how to tell a compelling story in the new medium. “Something that we are learning at the agency is how do we tell 360 stories,” she remarks. “VR is a really interesting space right now because you have your experts… in the technology so they know how to put together these cameras and they know how to create a 360 and capture that 360…but they aren’t brilliant directors, and then you have the directors that are coming from Hollywood and they know how to tell amazing stories, but they don’t know how to tell it in 360, and that is a huge struggle right now,” she clarifies. Likewise, Chad Koch, Director of Post Production at Condé Nast, is on the frontlines of discovery with trying to create VR films. “We were just figuring out the grammar of how to tell a VR story,” he shares. He remarks how challenging the new media is even with acting, “the performances too [are different]. This is kind [of like] the differences [with performances] of theatrical and film.” Christine Lane echoes the same sentiments saying, “You’re not thinking of a native script anymore or a script the same [way].” She adds, “you’re [having to] think about script in quadrants 0-90 degrees, 90-180 degrees so you can actually say what is happening in each quartet from my point of view at one [given] time.”
It seems that innovation and forward thinking is what Samsung and its Samsung Gear VR department is pursuing. Samsung, one of the big drivers in the virtual reality industry, is hoping to “democratize virtual reality,” claims Marc Mathieu, Samsung CMO. He emphasizes, “We need to make people rethink their phone.” Your phone is no longer your phone, but rather, “the center of an ecosystem of products [making it the] ultimate virtual reality machine.” Thus, putting the power of VR creation, exploration and consumption in the hands of its customers. He suggests, “Our mission of democratizing virtual reality,” turns into “VR is democratizing immersive experience.” He explains, “Our goal is to accelerate the creation… not to do it ourselves.” He goes on to say, “we believe [this] is going to change not just the way we tell stories, but also the way that people communicate.” He concludes by joking, “There are two things we haven’t invented yet, time travel and teleportation, and virtual reality is as close as it gets right now.”
Well, here is to the future… especially in 360.