The BBC’s Planet Earth II was one of the most watched TV shows of last year. A massive 9.2 million viewers tuned in to watch the opening episode – making it the most watched natural history programme for 15 years.
So it’s no wonder BBC Worldwide started 2017 by announcing a sequel. But there’s a twist. The mini-series (due to launch at the end of February) won’t be available via the TV schedule – nor on-demand, for that matter. Instead BBC Worldwide is stepping into the realm of virtual reality.
Three individual episodes – available for the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR headsets – will allow viewers to interact with the adventures of a handful of illusive animals in 360 degrees. A chance for the millions who were glued to the box on Sunday evenings to truly immerse themselves.
The shift to virtual viewing is an interesting move by any industry standards – but the fact that the UK’s largest public service broadcaster (PSB) has taken the first step speaks volumes. The BBC has set a stake in the ground, definitively marking out the next big thing for broadcasting.
So, should we be expecting VR TV to take off in 2017? Mark Blair, VP of EMEA at Brightcove, offers his thoughts:
“On the one hand, there’s no doubt that the BBC’s pilot will inspire others in the industry to follow suit – be it other PSBs or new, pure-play VR entrants. It will certainly whet viewer appetites for immersive TV, sparking a demand that broadcasters will ultimately struggle to ignore.
Yet, on the other hand, VR is still very much in the experimental stage and there remain a number of kinks that need ironing out.
Monetisation, for example. For VR to be a viable viewing model, broadcasters will have to master the money making aspect but thankfully there are a number of potential avenues to explore. While an ad-supported video model may be tricky (layering ads within a virtual world could create issues), alternatives like sponsorship, product placement or even an SVOD-style model could be the answer.
Quality is the second hurdle. The VR playback experience is different to what we’re used to with linear, OTT or VOD viewing – so there’s an element of viewers having to acclimatise to it. Ultimately, it’s all about the quality of the content experience – ensuring high-definition, smooth playback that viewers can comfortably immerse themselves in. This is where leaders in the online video industry – like Brightcove – will have to help broadcasters to get it right.
That said, it’s my opinion that VR is set to grow much faster than the industry is currently indicating – especially as the increasing affordability of hardware drives its adoption into the mainstream. The broadcasting industry will be forced to resolve the short term problems mentioned above and stride into a new level of OTT TV.
We’ll soon see how advanced the BBC’s virtual reality capabilities are, and how high the bar is set for the rest of the broadcasting industry. But, however well-received the BBC pilot turns out to be, the mini-series proves one thing is certain, VR is here to stay.”