By Tim Sarnoff, President of Production Services and Deputy CEO, Technicolor –
If we are going to deliver on the promise to expose audiences to a new category of entertainment, we as an industry will have to offer up unbelievably compelling, and native, creative content that cannot be experienced through any other medium.
This offers an opportunity to challenge all preconceptions about what the process of narrative storytelling looks like. My own view is that the timeless themes that have driven storytelling since the beginning of humanity will probably remain relevant. Our core emotions—fear, sadness, anger, happiness, love, excitement, adventure— are fascinating avenues to delve into through immersive environments. Similarly, I have a strong suspicion that there is plenty to mine around tensions between humanity and society, inter-generational conflicts, man versus nature, and the other great storylines of literature.
One thing of which I feel even more certain, however: We must reduce any sense of artificiality in the relationship between content and audience as we develop experiences for these new mediums. We are already asking our audiences to meet us more than halfway as they move from the largely passive processes of “watching” flat programs or movies, to being transported inside of an “experience” that surrounds them.
Once there, it will be critical to ensure people feel like they are really “there.” My sense is that it will continue to be very challenging to maintain a “willing suspension of disbelief” in immersive media. Achieving this will undoubtedly be connected to how quickly immersive content creation, distribution, and consumption technologies evolve. But the storytelling, or experience design, will be even more important. We will have to up our game and give audiences a compelling reason to allocate mind-share and wallet-share to immersive experiences.
Social immersive experiences
One of the biggest myths I hear about VR is that immersive experiences are presumed to be isolating, non-social experiences. (Another observation about VR with which I disagree is that VR is not conducive to narrative story-telling.)
I reject both notions out of hand. I do not believe that we should assume any artistic or technological limitations when it comes to engaging with audiences. Indeed, on the social front, I believe that the development of a strong social dimension to immersive experiences will be a critical factor in ensuring the creation of scale that will turn this emerging entertainment genre into a widely adopted and enjoyed medium.
If we are transported inside an experience, we will want to participate actively with others (whether as friends or part as of the character cast). It is likely that many technologies will be developed to counteract the potential virtual loneliness that can occur when one separates from the real world. These will probably include developments in interrelated social networks and artificial intelligence.
One of the debates in immersive media revolves around form factors:
What kind of experience do we want to deliver – narrative, interactive, passive, active…?
How much time are people willing to spend in immersive environments?
Personally, I would be careful about making commitments to any hard and fast rules because I know technologists and artists who are raring to break through any kind of prescribed limitation. I do believe quite strongly, however, that we should be looking to create a critical mass of content that gives audiences a reason to come back to immersive experiences again and again.
This will be a function of strong storytelling and compelling characters. It is not enough to drive the ecosystem one story at a time. At some point, a form of episodic content delivery will be needed to allow the audience to form an on-going relationship with the characters over time.
If you believe that immersive media has the potential to be a truly disruptive development in how people experience entertainment, then there has to be something that it disrupts. Immersive experiences will have to challenge existing mediums with the prospect of losing mind- and wallet-share. Now, what that means, and how it is executed is going to be fodder for fascinating conversations… conversations that I am looking forward to having.
If we can address these success factors effectively, and establish an ecosystem that makes financial sense to each link in the value chain then I believe we can unleash unprecedented creativity, and in turn, create new economic opportunities for artists, technologists and the supporting cast of network service providers, equipment manufacturers and content producers.
The key, in the end, will be focus. We will be able to meet the expectations, and the full potential, of immersive experiences if the community of artists and technologists successfully shifts focus away from the hype of the headlines and concentrates instead on developing an economically rational approach to high-quality content creation, distribution, and consumption.