This article is part of CMO.com’s September series on the state of media and entertainment. Click here for more.
The trailer starts ordinarily enough: A brother and sister are excited because they’re getting a dog. But when they visit their new pet Rukus’s doghouse, the plot takes an unexpected turn.
The siblings are transported to an imaginary world with dinosaurs, flowing lava, and psychedelic-looking plants. The other surprise: Viewers can decide to follow the story from either the brother’s or sister’s perspective.
“Raising a Rukus,” which was shown at the Imax VR Experience Center in Los Angeles, is unusual not just because it’s designed to be experienced in VR but because it will be distributed in 12-minute episodes designed for headsets and theaters.
VR is just one of the disruptive technologies currently rewriting the rules of the media and entertainment segment. Other potentially disruptive technologies include 5G, digital product placement, brain-based communication, and, of course, AI.
VR Gets Real
The Steven Spielberg-backed Virtual Reality Company, which created “Raising a Rukus,” is the most aggressive proponent of VR. At the moment there are a few theaters in New York and Los Angeles where viewers can experience VR. Rukus was the first VR experience that was designed to premiere at those theaters.
As Dreamscape VR and Sony IMAX also push theater-based VR experiences, though, short sellers are betting that Millennials will kill movie theaters as they prefer to stay home rather than venture out for a VR experience.
VRC CEO Guy Primus said it’s not an either-or. “We see it coming in all those forms,” Primus told CMO.com. “You can go to the theater and sit in a roomful of people with your bucket of popcorn. That’s the first release window, but there are also home-based experiences.”
Though Primus is convinced that VR will inevitably become a mainstream entertainment technology, it has been off to a slow start. Last year’s release of the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift was supposed to augur a breakthrough year for VR, but by the end of 2016 Facebook had only sold about 400,000 of the headsets, while Sony sold 800,000 PlayStation VR units and HTC sold 500,00 Vive headsets, according to researcher Canalys.
That hasn’t stopped Gannett’s USA Today from launching a weekly VR series, “Vrtually There,” in 2016. That came after The New York Times shipped more than 300,000 free Google Cardboard headsets to subscribers in November 2015 to push its NYT VR app, which included 360-degree video-based news stories.
“We see an opportunity and we’re trying to get in early,” said Ray Soto, design director for emerging tech for Gannett. “It’s providing us an opportunity to understand how to build an immersive experience, but focusing on the storytelling side.” (More about USA Today’s efforts here.)
5G Will Accelerate Mobile Entertainment And Cord-Cutting
Over the next year or so, the telecom industry is expected to introduce 5G, which is the latest generation of wireless. Telecom’s last big upgrade, 4G, made mobile video use common, so 5G is likely to have some major effects, too.
In particular, download speeds will jump 10-fold or even 100-fold, meaning you can download an entire movie in a few seconds instead of a few minutes, possibly prompting a move away from streaming services and back to download-based viewing and listening. But 5G also will reduce latency to almost zero, making possible real-time VR broadcasting and live-streaming of sports and other live programming, including user-generated live video.
5G will also threaten existing broadband suppliers since consumers could conceivably get all of their mobile and non-mobile streaming through one 5G carrier.
AI Will Make Entertainment Better (And Creepier)
Screening films before test audiences is nothing new. What is new is using AI and facial recognition software to get a read on how much those audiences are enjoying the film. That’s what Disney has done for “Jungle Book” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Disney Research has created a neural network that analyzes viewers’ faces for telltale signs, including smiles and laughter.
Daniel Newman, CEO of Broadsuite Media Group, said media companies now have the ability to cull data from viewing that shows which shows are being watched and often which moments are getting the strongest reaction. “The machines do know us well and they know what we want to see,” he told CMO.com. “They don’t have to ask us what we’re watching because everything is connected now.”
Studios aren’t the only ones taking this approach. Snap analyzes its content shot-by-shot to determine how it’s going over with audiences and also uses that data to inform its other content development.
Smarter Product Placement
As audiences continue to flock to ad-free services such as Netflix for their entertainment, advertisers are giving product placement another look. While in the past product placement relied on dedicated agencies to make deals with studios before shoots (such as the famous Reese’s Pieces integration into E.T.), now the deals can be made after the shoot because brand names are superimposed by technology.
The idea isn’t necessarily new, but Accenture said AI has created a means to personalize the products and logos using programmatic buying. Such placement might also make use of retargeting. As The Drum explained, if a consumer was recently searching for an iPhone, she might see one while watching “Orange is the New Black.” Accenture said this use of AI-driven product placement is a billion-dollar opportunity.
The most futuristic-sounding media and entertainment technology, meanwhile, is brain-driven communications. In April, Facebook stunned the tech community when it announced it had 60 engineers working on a technology that would let users send messages via their brainwaves and without typing them out. Consumers would be able to type such messages at up to 100 words per minute. Such communication might be carried out by noninvasive sensors that measure brain activity.
That news came shortly after Elon Musk also announced his new venture, Neuralink, which was behind a similar brain-machine linkage. Musk’s company aims to help people suffering from severe brain injuries, but Musk believes that it will also usher in “consensual telepathy,” which will allow people to have conversations without talking.
Sound too sci-fi for you? Then consider that Boston-area startup Neurable has already rigged up an electrode-laden headset designed to work with the HTC Vive that lets you use your mind to pick up and throw items.
Given such advances, the near future of entertainment is looking more and more like dreamlike experiences engineered by experts. But the technology will only get you so far. What will ultimately move the market will be content.
“Up to this point we’ve seen a lot of great parlor tricks in VR,” said Robert Stromberg, founder and chief creative officer for The VR Company. “But now there are a lot of talented people coming in. When you have compelling content, it will be a force to be reckoned with.”