Are we about to embark on the Age of Immersive 360 degree Video Experiences? With some work, the answer is yes, suggests Tim Bonney, Strategy Lead at Candyspace.

We have had “The Year of Content”, we have had “The Year of Mobile” (several actually), and we have had “The Year of Data.” Is 2016 to be the year of immersive 360-degree video experiences? Certainly both Facebook and YouTube would have us believe that it is.

As marketers, we know eliciting behavior change is tough, which is why we normally co-opt existing behaviors. So in this context let’s consider the theatre of video, our relationship with it and specifically the birth of 360 video –with a tip of the hat to the moving image and its use in advertising past, present and future.

It’s an area that perhaps hasn’t really encountered any particularly dramatic upheavals within the last 50 years, having been predominantly watched, close up, alone or with family and friends in the comfort of your own home. It’s a medium that has gone from what was initially not much more than radio with black and white pictures, to full color viewer interactive game shows, to digital, internet connected, 4K HD, curved screens – even if we look at mobile, the trend really hasn’t changed in a meaningful way despite the introduction of ‘engaging interactive’ formats.

In short, the screen, and our relationship with it, has remained constant – an extension of the theatrical proscenium arch and our own 140 degree field of vision. That is until Facebook launched its first Star Wars themed 360 animated video back in September last year.

Despite all this change, neither the hardware or the content has asked the end user to actually adjust their behavior all that much – and if anything has simply increased the ‘immersion’ of the experience, in the easiest possible way – surround sound, more pixels per inch, integration with other devices or channels to bring to the home an experience across a number of touch points. The consistency we really see, is the human head. It never moves, it has never been asked to move. Even looking over the last 2,500 years of recorded theatrical history humans have, almost without fail, been sat down, fed, watered, pointed in a particular direction and, the hope being, entertained. And yes you can say “but now we watch on the move on mobile”, but actually our relationship with the screen, and our field of view has remained constant.

Perhaps this is the very reason why AR has barely taken off, despite the fact it has been around on smartphones since 2008: too much friction, too much to ask of consumers, not enough value return. The problem becomes more accentuated when the behavior that needs changing is so embedded it’s almost surprising that our necks haven’t evolved out of the need to rotate. Thank god for real life!

Now I mention it, perhaps that’s it. Real-life. Watching TV, we are really asked to pause real-life, switch to lower brain function and open ourselves up into a more receptive emotional state, it’s more than a little like REM, and this is why TV advertising has always succeeded – we are captive, and we are open, ready and willing to be coerced into acceptance of a new reality.

But 360 video? VR, in a gaming sense, I understand. But 360 linear content? That, is a toughie. At Candyspace, where I work, the most forceful issue is that of its creative use in meaningful advertising. How can a story be effectively, and most importantly, intuitively played out in this medium? Look the wrong way at the wrong moment, miss a critical call to action or other important narrative hook; or alternatively you can awkwardly navigate the video with your mouse on a desktop.

In its current form there are numerous usability issues with 360 video and I suppose that a big part of the problem is really input, navigation and UX. These 3 key pillars are a way off even being close to good for your average mobile or desktop user, be they at home or out and about. To be meaningful or ubiquitous, it has to move beyond existing as a gimmick – which, with my hand on heart, is all it is at the moment. It has not been created to fulfill a need, it has been created because technology allows it – certainly in advertising its use cases currently don’t stretch any further than acting as branded content.

The bare minimum advertisers (and their work) needs is the ability to have deeper interactions within the video; and for Facebook and YouTube technologists to embrace the strange hinterland between the worlds of linear 360 video and Virtual Reality. At this point I’d settle for simple clickable areas, or delineating the videos with additional selectable narratives. This would begin to give a greater reason for advertisers to invest in the format and help it grow beyond its current bounds.

There are many problems to be overcome, but as Winston Churchill once alluded, within these problems, lie the opportunities. Opportunities for real experimentation, innovation and leadership. It’s down to people like us to develop new ways of engaging, not simply by co-opting a behavior; but by actually developing and evolving the reasons why these new immersive experiences of 360 ought to eventually appear on a channel plan near you. And that’s what excites me and my colleagues.