360° Video Content Starts with Cameras

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By Michael Inouye | 2Q 2017 | IN-4563

A number of recent announcements in the 360° camera market provide reassurance that the market is moving in the right direction, and more content will be on its way in the not too distant future.

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Recent 360° Camera Announcements Portend a Wider Stream of VR Content


A number of recent announcements in the 360° camera market provide reassurance that the market is moving in the right direction, and more content will be on its way in the not too distant future.

  • Facebook announced two new cameras at its F8 Developers Conference, most notably supporting 6DOF. Pricing has not been announced, but it is a completed solution, rather than the previous US$30,000 kit/design.
  • GoPro announced a new portable 360° camera (Fusion) that plays true to its action camera roots, but availability will be limited throughout 2017 (initially to partners and then a later limited release).
  • Nokia and Accedo announced a partnership bringing Nokia Ozo’s player and SDK to Accedo’s multi-platform solutions/services.
  • YI Technology is selling a Google Jump platform-based professional 17-camera for US$17,000, and a consumer YI 360 VR at US$399.
  • Jaunt will begin selling its Jaunt ONE camera in the open market (starting at B&H, AbelCine, and Radiant Images); previously, the Jaunt ONE was only available to rent.
  • Ricoh will showcase a new 360° camera in its Theta line that supports 4K video and live streaming at NAB 2017; product launch is scheduled for a later date in 2017.   

Lower-priced cameras and wider availability help expand the pool of content creators. Beyond the announcements above, the list of cameras targeting the consumer and prosumer markets already filled out nicely, with price ranges (in some cases promotional) for select products falling below the critical US$200 price, and a growing number priced in the hundreds (e.g., Samsung Gear 360 VR, Ricoh’s Theta, Voxx’s 360Fly, etc.) to the low thousands (e.g., Orah at MSRP US$3,600). The growing number of standalone solutions also reduces the reliance on camera rigs (which required multiple 2D cameras to capture the 360° FOV, often GoPro units) eliminating the prospects for lower priced solutions when fully equipped. This is critical to the growth of virtual reality (VR) content, much like mobile VR is essential for the continued expansion of the HMD installed base.   

Reassessing Early Video Forecasts


ABI Research’s current video forecast for VR sees the market growing to nearly US$2.5 billion by 2021. Early video revenue was primarily generated through sponsorships and marketing campaigns, but the business models were expected to shift rapidly (starting this year [2017]) to a pay-per-play pricing strategy, with these pricing strategies to account for over 65% of revenue in 2021. The 65% share of the market actually represented a shift toward advertising/marketing, as premium content exchanges generate considerably more revenue per user, at least until the installed bases grow large enough to generate significant revenue from volume of views. 2017 already saw examples of premium VR and 360° video experiences from NCAA/Intel/CBS/Turner (NCAA Men’s Tournament) and Vimeo, allowing Pro and Business members to put 360° video content behind a paywall.

An influx of new content creators, fueled by greater availability of cameras and services, could impact revenue distribution, particularly if the YouTube community more readily embraces 360° video. Digital advertising, however, is getting assaulted on multiple fronts, from ad-blockers, questionable/inappropriate content, and concerns about its effectiveness. Rumors even suggest Google is planning to add an ad-blocker to Google Chrome, and while it would only block unacceptable ads, it raises additional flags. Unacceptable ads could include (as defined by the Coalition for Better Ads) pop-ups (already blockable), autoplaying video ads with sound, interstitial ads with countdowns, and large sticky ads. While actions such as this would likely only impact 360° video tangentially, it does speak to the challenges content owners and services face when trying to monetize this video via advertising.

For instance, how will the ads get served in a VR use case? Will a 2D window appear and play before the user is allowed to access the content? If this 2D screen/window tracks the user’s gaze, this would make it impossible for the user to look away, but it could also lead to viewers defecting from the experience by simply taking the HMD off. Companies like ADVR are pushing interactive items within the virtual environment that act as portals to branded virtual experiences, but this effectively amounts to opt-in advertising and pulls the user away from the experience. Advertising within the virtual environment is far from settled; we can even point to past market attempts like in-game advertising and failed social/virtual worlds like Sony PlayStation Home to further punctuate the difficulties services face when trying to brand/advertise within these virtual environments.

Regardless, advertising and marketing will likely capture a larger portion of the video revenue split if more UGC and smaller video producers dominate the video content landscape. While the forecasts have not yet been updated, increasing indicators suggest the total market value for 360° and VR video could exceed current expectations, especially if experiences become more immersive. 

Better Experiences on the Way


Of all the recent camera-related announcements, Facebook’s new cameras stand out—not only because of the company behind the announcement, but due to the cameras’ support for 6DOF movement. At first glance this might sound like a minor addition, but in practice it is quite significant. 360° video experiences today are mostly limited to 3DOF or rotational movement. Seated or standing viewing experiences have been acceptable because most viewers experience these 360° videos on mobile VR HMDs, which only support head-tracking or 3DOF. The addition of translational movement (6DOF) allows for head bobbing/swaying and movement within the three-dimensional space. This provides for a more natural viewing experience, particularly if proper depth cues are present.

There are a number of moving parts to improving the overall user experience, from higher resolution displays and newer technologies like light field (display and content creation) to tracking user movement. But each step gets the market closer to living up to its full potential. For some naysayers, the current landscape is indicative of a technology looking for an audience, but these are still the early days and new hardware like Facebook’s cameras suggest these advancements will come faster than previously anticipated. As with most new technologies, it is not about what is here today as much as it is about what is to come.