It's been described as the next big thing in tech for 2016, and 360-degree video is certainly gaining traction in New Zealand as brands begin experimenting with mind-bending perspectives the tech gives us access to.
Facebook purchased virtual reality technology Oculus Rift in 2014 for a mere $2 billion and has over the last year been setting up the framework for VR on its platform, introducing 360-degree video capability to its newsfeeds in September.
YouTube was a bit quicker to the punch and introduced support for 360-degree video in early 2015.
The integration of this tech means we can now watch these videos on our desktops (where we can click, drag and look around) or on our mobile phones where we can move our devices around to see a full, spherical 360-degree view. Pretty amazing stuff.
While sometimes referred to interchangeably with virtual reality, 360-degree video is just the footage while virtual reality typically means the viewer is wearing VR goggles, pairing them with the video for a more immersive experience.
Augusto has been an early user of 360-degree video, playing around around with it since last year, but the technology had been on its radar for a while.
One example of Augusto's use of it, is AIG's Haka 360-degree experience, which created quite a buzz during the 2015 Rugby World Cup and when coupled with Google Cardboard, which turns smartphones into VR headsets, it's even more impressive.
More recently, Augusto teamed up with V Energy to create a promotional video featuring drifter Cole Armstrong. The clip is educational as well as entertaining, as Armstrong describes how he is yielding the vehicle as he speeds through the twists and turns of the track.
Augusto managing director Leon Kirkbeck says the agency is taking 360-degree video quite seriously, even hiring a new staff member who has more experience with the technology.
“We are taking a big interest in it. Not so much just from the experience but from a storytelling mechanism," he says.
“A lot of people are still showing dirt bikes on sand dunes or what it feels like to sky diver but with the 'V Drift' [ad] we thought it would be a lot better to use the mechanism as an educational tool and that’s why we are teaching how to drift and talking through it as we can see its potential as a storytelling mechanism.”
He says that while extreme sports is an obvious early use of the technology there will be more experimental uses of the technology to come.
“We are working with Samsung on sustainable coastlines and how important it is for Samsung to take care of our water and our coastlines, so that’s an education piece. It’s not ‘How crazy is this?’ It’s more like 'Let's go underwater, most people don’t get to see how beautiful it is when we take care of our oceans and coastlines'. I think the extreme stuff has all been done now and that’s a bit of an initial land grab … I think now people will use it for more strategic and communication purposes.”
He says Augusto is also working on a television show idea in 360-degree video. “Now that YouTube supports it and Facebook too, it is very accessible.”
Despite the creative uses and the fact that it can be more cost-effective than a normal shoot as the technology isn't crazy expensive, says Kirkbeck, it creates a lot of work post-production.
“The production pipeline process and using the cameras right in the first instance is challenging. There’s six individual streams of video and you have to make them all match up so there is a lot of learning and frustrating moments where we are trying to patch things together,” he says.
“It’s a completely different way of working, we have to kind of re-train how we tell the story, but also how to use the technology and make our work and post-production processes work best so that we aren’t spending countless hours in the edit suite trying to make it work.”
So should all brands be jumping at the technology?
“I think it’s got a certain window of excitement. There’s quite a sizeable chunk of the population who haven’t tried it and those who try it for the first time are so blown away. So we feel there is a bit of a race about which brands should be the first people to give people a reason to experience it.”
He reckons this year it'll have its heyday. “ … but then after that it will morph into something else or it will be something people use because there is a specific need to use that storytelling mechanism over something else.”
Motion Sickness Studio creative director and founder Samuel Stuchbury says his studio has invested in the technology recently. “We actually ordered a 360 rig for ourselves.”
He says the MSS team is working on a project at the moment but can’t give much away. “[It’s] with a client based around Auckland landscapes using 360 video. 360 video is such an immersive experience and there is so much you can do with it, lots of creative concepts are coming out on our end of how we could push this technology.”
Kellogg’s has given it a crack, with shopper marketing and activation agency Geometry Global NZ, turning a box of Nutri-Grain into a virtual reality experience, utilising the open-source ‘Google Cardboard’ design.
While not using actual footage, the Cancer Society has made the most the 360-degree capability through Facebook by creating a digital beach environment. The viewer can click the screen and drag to get a whole panoramic view of people hanging out and kids playing at the beach and learn about which sunblock is best for the viewer.
The ad was commissioned by API Consumer Brands and Cancer Society, produced in house by JWT.
JWT head of interactive and social Peeyoosh Chandra says a lot of pre-roll advertising is interruptive and it was looking for a way to be playful and entertain.
"Probably the biggest learning for us has been the performance of the video in terms of time engagement and sharing. It really shows that when you create something that is interactive and informative, people willingly engage. It's an exciting time for mobile and video story-telling."
As part of a promotional activation, Visa Wellington on a Plate used 360-degree video and VR to entice Aucklanders to head to the capital for the food festival. The activation was created by Proximity and Colenso BBDO. Read a first-hand account of the experience here.
While not a New Zealand brand, Contiki has been luring travellers by giving them the ability to truly envision a travel adventure with the use of virtual reality, and gave AUT students a taster during a visit from global CEO Casper Urhammer last year.
Earlier last year Contiki’s global video director Ben Gattegno ventured out to the U.S. to shoot a number of iconic destinations in 360-degree video. The minute-long video features a Contiki trip manager introducing the 'traveller's' trip and then snippets of the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, Times Square New York, Las Vegas and the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. Another video has since been shot in Italy, called ‘Cliff Diving’.
Contiki NZ owns two pairs, which it keeps in its Auckland office and recently partnered with Samsung to loan more headsets when needed to immerse prospective travellers in a virtual reality experience.
It’s early days yet and there are so many creative possibilities for the use of 360-degree video. And yes, in a matter of time, every man and his dog will be able to create them, but for now they’re mainly brand territory and people are still very impressed by them, so it would make sense for brands to give it a crack. Hopefully we'll see some innovative and creative uses of it in the months to come.
I'll leave you readers with words from Mark Zuckerberg after Facebook announced 360-degree video capability:
“In the future, imagine watching 360 videos of a friend’s vacation to a small village in France or a festival in Brazil — you’ll be able to look around and experience it as if you were there. Along with updates from your friends and family, you will also be able to discover amazing new content on Facebook from media companies, organisations, and individual creators … It’s early days, but we’re excited about the possibilities for 360 video and hope it helps people explore the world in new, immersive ways.”