A recent industry study on OTT video trends highlights the fact that virtual reality (VR) video is enjoying notable attention -- and that most OTT service providers expect to be in the VR business, if only eventually, for the long haul.
VR has already generated enormous interest. When combined with augmented reality (AR), the segment has enjoyed over $1 billion in investment -- a figure that is forecast to increase 119-fold by 2020. (See BT Sport's COO Discusses AR/VR.)
And online VR video is catching on with viewers; YouTube's 360° Videos Channel, for instance, presently has more than 1.77 million subscribers -- up from fewer than 1.3 million about five months ago. To help meet (and take advantage of) this demand, five six-minute episodes of Invisible -- a new, scripted VR-video serial thriller -- were released this past week for Samsung and Jaunt VR platforms, with notable fanfare.
Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT) commissioned a study -- produced by Streaming Media Magazine and Unisphere Research -- on global trends in OTT and advanced video solutions, surveying 628 media and entertainment executives from around the world.
"Emerging content formats such as VR video show promise," reads the report. "Interest in 4K (UHD) and VR video is … gaining ground, with each seeing more rapid acceptance in the OTT space than they are in traditional broadcast delivery. Both are in their infancy, but have already attracted interest from major content providers."
"OTT service providers," notes the report, "while just reaching the point where they are consistently delivering 1080p content, must now pivot and begin to invest in 4K and VR-video delivery."
While nearly two-thirds of all respondents indicated that they actively had or were making 4K plans; however, adoption of VR video remains relatively nascent -- and a trickier question. Just over 42% of study respondents reported that they "haven't even thought about" planning to develop, create, or distribute VR-video content. Meanwhile, only 5.5% of respondents had indicated that they had already launched such a plan -- with a measly 7.2% of additional respondents reporting that that their plans would launch within the next 9 months.
At the same time, 39.7% of respondents said that they were "actively researching" VR video development, creation, and/or distribution. The response is noncommittal; obviously, they could still go either way.
And yet, with more than half of respondents indicating that they have are at least at the research stage for VR video deployment, there is reason to be optimistic about VR's future. Indeed, more than two-thirds of the industry accepts that the age of VR video has arrived. More than 45% of respondents agreed that it is "here to stay" -- with nearly 22% of respondents expressing sentiments even more excitedly optimistic than that (i.e., 14% claiming: "Just like HD, [VR video] will become a market leader," and a separate, more enthusiastic 7.9% prognosticating that VR video represents "the future of all video").
As you would imagine, optimism is substantially higher among those who are working towards offering VR. Many respondents who are skeptical about the future of the technology are also not investing time or money in learning more. Still, this also means that they are the least informed about the technology and it's potential.
"More than half of those who haven't even thought about planning VR-video workflows predict that VR video will be a non-starter, but for those who are actively researching the idea of a VR-video service, the opinion shifts to indicate that VR-video
will become a mainstay of streaming video," Level 3's report points out. "For those planning to launch soon, or have already launched a VR-video service, the sentiment shifts even more, with the majority of respondents indicating VR video will be either a market leader or will become the future of all streaming video."
"Given VR technology was more of a novelty just a few years ago, this is certainly compelling," offered Anthony Christie, chief marketing officer at Level 3, in an email interview when asked about the study and his own "Big Video" insights. "The key takeaway from these findings is that the network has never been more important, and that providers like Level 3 will need to work closely with OTT companies to ensure we have the scalability and capacity to deliver these increasingly bandwidth-heavy experiences and meet the expectations of our customer. This means we have to master both the technology and the customer experience."
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation