Tuesday, May 24, 2016

360 Videos and the Future

Once upon a time, YouTube was a little-known website that hosted funny videos. Now it's not only as popular as Google, it's also a profession for many people. And while I wish I created quality content like so many YouTubers out there, I'm still new to this game. Sure, sure, I got on the YouTube VLOG wagon ages ago. But I never followed through because I didn't see the platform as viable for anything beyond consumption.

Now I'm back on that wagon creating.

But that's not what I want to talk about today. Today, I want to talk about the wave of the future: 360 degree video.

I don't know where Gary Vaynerchuk stands on 360 video but I know he's created some 360 content. For me, I'm betting on it being the next big thing in a few years. Here's why.


My last employer never understood "mobile" and still doesn't. Sure, they've bought mobile app companies but they just don't "get it." If you think of all the people out there, not only in the US but across the world, the mobile phone is so common-place, many people have more than one. In order to reach a wide audience, you need to be on mobile.

360 video is not only available on mobile, it's the perfect platform. Think about it, you spin around in one spot, tilt the phone, move it around, it's so easy to understand, my eight year old son gets it. And when he asked if it would do the same thing with my laptop, I had to explain that no, it wouldn't. I needed to use the keyboard or my mouse to pan and tilt the 360 video. He seemed confused but understood enough to not ask anymore questions.

But 360 and mobile go together like bread and butter. They form a relationship so symbiotic that the viewer doesn't even realize they're the third wheel.

Everything Else

When viewing a 360 video on any other device, it stumbles. And this is where I think 360 will fail. Sort of. So when you view a 360 video, it doesn't require you to have a special TV or laptop or anything other than some way to manually move the image. A keyboard (the WASD keys), a mouse (click and drag), or the icon on the video (kind of like a virtual joystick). Any of these will allow the viewer to move around "inside" the video.

And that's a stumbling point. Sure, it's possible. Sure, it's easier to see the video with a larger screen. But it's that "manual" part that makes it fail here.

And that's where it will fail in other platforms too. It's not easy to pick up your TV and move it around like you can your phone. And sure, you can pan/tilt manually, but then everybody else that's viewing the video is going to be subjected to your choices. So unlike the standard TV show where you stare at the hot babe and everyone else stares at the funny pig, now everyone will have to stare at the hot babe and that will take away from their experience.

Which will make them change the channel or want to watch something else.

And the same applies to movies but on a greater scale. Clearly you're not going to be able to physically move the screen. And if you had control over where the screen was "looking," I'm sure most of the people would be pissed when you moved it away from the primary source of the action.

The Future

This brings me to where I think the future will take us, specifically in terms of the impact of 360 video on movies. As I said above, 360 movies won't work. They barely work in 3D. But this doesn't mean that 360 videos won't leave their mark.

Let me back up a minute. I think in the next 5 years, 360 videos will slowly become more normal on your phone. In 10 years, the demand will be great enough that movie companies will begin to ponder how they win viewers over when they're all clamoring for more 360 videos.

I think the answer for them lies in one of two directions.

First, there's the obvious answer because it's already out there; IMAX. IMAX movies give viewers a larger image to look at which naturally causes them to move their heads around. The IMAX Dome gives viewers a 180 degree field of view. I don't see domes going up all over but I do see some retrofits coming.

A shorter screen than IMAX, but wider could be the solution. Yes, it can go up and down a little, but the downward view is going to be blocked by the people in front of you. And too much screen above is going to leave you with a stiff neck like you were sitting in the front row. But there's room on the sides that aren't used. I don't think the screen would expand too far beyond the midway point because those in the front would be looking to the sides too much. So maybe a quarter to a third would be used.

As for the movie itself, I still think the primary action will be in the front and center. But there may secondary actors or scenery or plot that takes place on the sides that may add to the experience or the story or just make things cooler.

Image this. You're watching Lawrence of Arabia. You look left and right of center and see sand dunes all over the place. Sure, Lawrence is right there in front of you but think of all that scenery to the sides that could add to the movie. Or the train tracks going off into the distance on one side while they're planting the bomb and way way off you can see the puff of smoke from the train.

You get the idea. It's an option. And I think what makes it work is that it could add to the viewer's experience. It could make the movie better. Then again, it could be like 3D and be completely over-used and end up making people mad.

The other possibility I see working is visors. Or goggles. Or Google Cardboard. Or something like that where the viewer watches the movie through their VRware glasses and can look in all directions in the movie. They can be in the middle of the Gryffindor table during the Christmas dinner and see Ron on one side of them and Harry on the other. Hermione could be talking to Ron from the other side of the table but it would feel like you're there in Hogwarts.

The downside to this possibility is that it takes away from the movie going experience itself. Not so much the movie, but the trip to the movie theater. The popcorn, the sticky floors, the annoying kid behind you that kicks the seat. All of those would be gone and you'd watch the movie at home or where ever you wanted.

Sure, the goggles could be an added feature for select movies like the 3D glasses, but the goggles wouldn't be disposable and would therefore be the source of disease, damage, and equipment failure. It would be like walking into the movie and your date gets a great pair of goggles and yours show everything in green. Or you get pink eye. Or they just don't work.


In the end, I think 360 videos will slowly set the pace for technology changes in the movie industry as well as the mobile phone industry. As demand grows, the related industries will need to adapt or die. And if you made it this far through my rambling predictions, it should be pretty obvious that I think this will be the wave of the future in some form.

Or maybe it'll just be a fad like laserdiscs.

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