Twitter invests in Virtual Reality: Is the technology about to go mainstream?

Last week Twitter appointed former Apple designer Alessandro Sabatelli as its new Virtual Reality chief. The move spells some big consequences for the entertainment and leisure industry: Sabatelli’s work to date has focused on using VR to enhance the way people experience music, with his company’s Lucy app (now owned by Twitter) specifically targeting Millennials at music festivals.

Virtual Reality technology is attracting increasing consumer interest. In a recent UK survey, 70% of respondents expressed interest in buying a VR headset, while a third had already tried one out.

Interactive entertainment has a particularly strong use case. Research by GreenlightVR found that 67% of US consumers would use VR to augment their experience of TV or film, a further 67% would use it to experience live events and 60% thought it could be useful for gaming.

Sabatelli isn’t the first technologist to make the connection between VR and live music. Companies have already leveraged the technology at music festivals – at Coachella 2016, all ticket holders were sent a VR viewer to be used in conjunction with a phone app, and 2015’s Lollapalooza Berlin saw Sony Music partner with Wowza to create a 360-degree VR live stream of the event.

Could music festivals be about to get high tech? With Glastonbury tickets costing upwards of £228 this year (up 17% from five years ago), there is a growing need to make festivals more accessible. Technology that allows fans to immerse themselves visually and aurally in the experience without shelling out on high entry costs seems like a good solution, and one that could increase festivals’ appeal among a new generation of fans.

Generation Z are a key segment for this kind of activity. According to GreenlightVR, 79% were excited to experience Virtual Reality vs. 73% of Millennials and 64% of Baby Boomers. By contrast, the average age of festival goers, at least in the UK, is 36, which could change as new consumption methods become available.

However, the expense of first wave VR headsets and the sluggishness of brands to bring cheaper models to market remains a barrier to greater usage. An Oculus Rift headset, the leading manufacturer in the sector, retails for £500, with the competing HTC Vive priced at £689.

While a once-only cost for the technology represents better value than purchasing multiple event tickets, consumers are increasingly unwilling to spend large sums on a headset. US consumers indicated that they would pay a maximum $199 for a VR headset in June 2016, down from $399 when surveyed in October 2015. Options that work with existing devices owned by consumers, such as the forthcoming PlayStation VR and smartphone add-ons like Google Cardboard, could help remedy this.

Twitter itself remains tight-lipped about its own strategy for Virtual Reality. The company set a precedent for investing in live experiences with its streaming platform Periscope, which has made formerly exclusive events visible to the general public as they happen. For example, Radiohead encouraged fans at their recent gig in Iceland to record the show on their smartphones so it could be streamed from home, and Marriott Rewards partnered with Universal Music to take viewers behind the scenes at SXSW via Periscope.

The acquisition of IXOMOXI and Sabatelli’s appointment suggest Twitter is worth monitoring as further synergies are created between technology and entertainment.

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