Virtual reality may prove to be the future of TV, video, and gaming; or, it may play out like 3-D TV or LaserDisc, a fad that never really takes off. Companies like Facebook, Samsung, and NextVR are betting on the former while many TV networks are afraid of the latter.
Some types of TV production can be half-assed and audiences won’t notice the difference. This is not true of VR, though, which has led major networks to wait and see before investing in the technology.
Discovery, however, is not one of these networks. In August, the network introduced DiscoveryVR, which features original content from the network’s most popular shows produced specifically for VR. Viewers can watch via Google Cardboard and Samsung’s Milk VR.
“Virtual reality is still incredibly new, and we’re evolving our strategy in real time,” Conal Byrne, Senior Vice President, Digital Media, Discovery Communications, told Found Remote. “There are boundaries we are going to push to see what resonates – what works and what doesn’t. Our focus right now is just to make incredible content that can speak for itself.”
Discovery’s MythBusters (RIP) Shark Shipwreck experience has already drawn 1.4 million views, and the network’s vast library of science and nature content lends itself particularly well to the VR experience.
While the type of content Discovery is offering is a major draw, marketing VR to audiences has its challenges. For more on how Discovery is getting ahead of the movement while educating viewers, we spoke with Byrne:
Found Remote: Now that you're two months into Discovery VR, what usage trends have you noticed?
Conal Byrne: It’s still early days in the virtual reality space, but we have been overwhelmed by the response to our content and how people are engaging across platforms - from our apps to Facebook and YouTube (our MythBusters Shark Shipwreck experience has more than 1.4M views alone). When we launched at the end of August, there were a handful of companies who had published virtual reality content in some form, primarily as one-offs or promotional content. Based on audience and advertiser interest, and combined with the new ways that consumers can and will be able to access VR, it is safe to say that there's much more to come from Discovery and other innovative creators and
FR: What are some of the marketing challenges you've faced that are unique to VR?
Byrne: Virtual reality is still very new to most consumers, so there's a natural evolution as they begin to experience it in its different forms. Many companies are slowly dipping their toes in the VR waters; however, we have committed ourselves to engaging existing and new audiences through this engaging medium. We're fortunate to have a strong brand in Discovery and multiplatform audiences that we were able to introduce to Discovery VR at launch. As with linear, digital or VR, the content is at the center of any success, and we're very proud of what we're rolling out and how it has audiences immersing themselves and sharing it.
FR: Since VR will remain a small subset of viewers for at least the next few years, how will you determine whether Discovery VR is successful?
Byrne: There are some quantifiable measures that we are certainly looking at, such as app downloads, visits and views across platforms and the time spent in individual experiences. Our primary goal is to build a compelling experience that engages a growing audience, which in turn can lead to new opportunities for monetization. When “Discovery VR” comes up organically in larger industry conversations because we were able to lead with our launch or when you find yourself in a room full of hundreds of people in complete awe while experiencing Discovery VR for the first time, that’s a win for us, too.
FR: Why is Discovery's content so well suited for VR?
Byrne: Compelling storytelling has been a part of the Discovery DNA for more than 30 years. Whether it’s a new on-air innovation, social platform or digital technology that’s emerged, we're always looking to bring our audiences closer to our content and characters, which in some cases are the world around us. Virtual reality allows our fans to become characters in a setting of their choice. It’s immersive in a way that no other technology is.