YouTube Heats Up VR Market

On June 22, the New York Times reported that, with the exception of the gaming industry, VR has proven a disappointment. It cites weak sales for VR headsets and the fact that all the “dabbling” in VR ventures has not amounted to serious strides.

But that may change with a boost from YouTube. The Google-owned video site is promoting the development of VR videos with new resources and tools that help developers and may make VR videos more attractive for marketing.

Which VR elements in a video get the most attention? That’s something that creators are able to track with Heatmaps, a feature that YouTube rolled “for 360-degree and VR videos with over 1,000 views” on June 16.

You can see an example of a heatmap applied to a music video here: 

The map reveal not just which sections draw the eye but even how much time viewers devote to it for comprehensive video analytics.  The blog on the announcement also includes some general tips to improving the “immersive video” experience.

For video creators who are really seriously about learning how to exploit the possibilities of VR, YouTube extended applications for intensive training at VR Creator Lab.  To create the VR creator Lab, YouTube partnered with VR Scout, and VR Playhouse.

Those who are selected for the program receive “advanced education from leading VR instructors, 1:1 mentoring, and $30,000 to $40,000 in funding toward the production of their dream projects.” The applicants had to already have a channel that is not linked to a consumer brand and agree to set YouTube as the exclusive publisher for the videos produced in the lab for the first year.

Applicants also need to:

  • Have produced and published at least two 360° videos to their channel
  • Have a YouTube channel with at least 10,000 subscribers (or 1,000 subscribers if registered in the YouTube Nonprofit Program)
  • Have no current copyright or Terms of Service strikes on the qualifying channel(s)
  • Have completedan “Unlock the Space” orientation (this can be done after acceptance to the Lab, if not already completed)

While VR Creator Lab is not intended for brand channels, the techniques that will be developed will undoubtedly come to enhance the video marketing strategies that some companies are already using. For example, the Australian airline Qantas, already has a number of 360° videos to showcase the attractions of its destinations. Among the most popular ones is a VR visit to Hamilton Island. It also draws on a three-way partnership involving Qantas, Hamilton Island and Samsung.

The video is designed to be viewed on 1440p (HD) or 2160p (4K). 

The partnership makes sense to highlight the beauty of the place, the ability of the equipment to capture it, and the airline that can bring you there in person. In addition to showing off particular places, VR videos are also used to depict the experience of amusement park rides or what it’s like to explore a particular museum or fly in balloon with sweeping, panoramic views.

VR is not reserved solely for capturing grandeur.  As smartphones can be used for image capture, some businesses, like iStaging are making it possible to share 360° of properties for sale.  Should the people at iStaging work in the kind of heatmaps YouTube is offering for those videos, they would also discover which features draw the eyes of customers the most and can guide sellers toward more effective virtual staging.

There is great marketing potential there, and there is a lot to be discovered along the way. YouTube’s current efforts for VR will likely give the industry the push it needs to be taken seriously, not just for entertainment but for marketing content and insight.

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