360 video – potential and pitfalls

Adam Cox, an analyst with FutureSource Consulting, poses a few questions about whether the hype around 360-degree video is justified in the light of technological limitations. While his focus is commercial applications, the question he poses – whether 360-degree technology is a passing fad or something with a more solid future – is also applicable to consumers as well:

The $5000 GoPro Omni gangs up six GoPro cameras for 8K performance.

Much has been said about the potential for 360-degree video, and there’s no doubt that it, along with its more dynamic cousin, virtual reality, is a hugely exciting technology, but there are significant question marks over the commercial viability of 360 video, not least the question of finding the right content.

Within the world of traditional content, the most lucrative content types are movies and sport, which is problematic for 360 video because the new medium lends itself to short form content. Ask yourself this – do you want to sit watching a 90-minute football match or a two-hour film with a hot, heavy headset on your face? The answer is probably no, which is why the industry is concentrating on content of between 3-8 minutes: perfect for a short film or a highlights reel, but nothing longer. This will change as technology improves and headsets becoming lighter, but it is still a significant initial obstacle to overcome.

Sport is a slightly different proposition, as the idea of being able to virtually put a viewer in a stadium to watch their favourite team is extremely compelling on the face of it, but becomes more complex when looked at in detail. Speaking in broad terms, the reason many people want to go to sporting events is to feel the experience – to feel the buzz of the crowd and to say ‘I was there’. They don’t go for the view because even the best seats in the house aren’t as good a viewing experience as watching the match at home. This is the issue: although 360 video can let you feel as though you are part of the crowd to a certain extent you can’t say ‘I was there’, but the price for this is an inferior viewing experience. There are solutions to this that are being worked on (being able to ‘change seats’ to get the best view as the action moves around for example), but it means that the technology faces an uphill struggle to convince people it isn’t a gimmick in its early years.

Other content types such as documentaries and music videos are more suited to the technology, but will people be willing to pay for them in the same way they pay for sport and movies? Probably not.

At $3500, the Insta 360 Pro is a 6 lens soccer ball shaped camera that can shoot 8K full 360 video, live stream 4K 360 video, shoot 8K photos and stabilise video on the fly.

The good news that in terms of distribution of content, no real investment needs to be made by content distributors to get 360 video into the hands of consumers. The only constraint (as ever) is bandwidth and with resolution so important in 360 video, this will be maxed out quite quickly. 360 therefore faces the same challenges as 4K, but things will improve for 360 as compression standards are optimised for the technology.

The tricky part comes when creating the content itself. This is still really seen as the Wild West, as uncharted territory, because most of the practices used to created traditional content up to now have had to have been thrown out of the window. How do you direct a viewer’s attention for example? With traditional content, this is done through editing and framing, in 360 simple editing is possible, but this is more to relocate the camera – editing cannot be used to direct attention or to fulfil another of its key functions – to generate empathy. Tricks such as audio and visual clues can be used, but this is still an area of development. And this is a problem.

There’s a finite amount of time when it’s accepted that there will be little to no return on investment for 360 video.  After this, monetisation is key, but will people be prepared to pay for substandard, experimental content? Traditional content has taken 100+ years to reach where we are today and is the benchmark of what people expect in terms of quality of experience. 360 video is in Year Three. Content creators are therefore facing an uphill battle to create compelling content that will generate sufficient revenues to keep the 360 momentum moving. The potential for 360 video is incredibly exciting, but it faces an uncertain future.
Adam Cox, analyst, Broadcast and Professional Video, FutureSource Consulting. First published by FutureSource Consulting, March 31. 


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