Virtual reality is no longer a foreign, somewhat abstract concept in the media. The technology has been penetrating nearly every outlet, from gaming to news to porn, and it’s not going to stop any time soon. With the release of the Oculus Rift and Gear VR goggles, the world of virtual reality is accessible to just about anyone. A big question now isn’t how media companies are going to integrate the technology with their content, but when.
Snapchat has evolved immensely since its 2011 debut under then name “Picaboo.” The creation of the Discover page has opened doors for major publishers to share their content with over 100 million users ever single day. 86 percent of those users are in the 13-34 age range, making the platform an incredibly fruitful platform for brands, like CNN, that typically have trouble reaching this demographic. The ads played on live feed stories consist of curated content specifically for the app, and because users can skip through them at will, the metrics of how many users are reached is extremely accurate.
Social media and virtual reality are bound to cross paths in the near future. I have yet to decide if I’m excited for this day to come, or if I want to hold on to the last shreds of privacy I have online. The iOS application, Splash, debuted at South by Southwest Interactive this year, and is the first step to achieving this partnership. The app is basically a combination of Snapchat and Periscope, but with a twist of its own. The app allows you to capture 360 degree video without an actual 360 degree camera. A motion similar to taking a panorama photo on your phone will allow you to capture still or moving images all around you. The finished product can then be watched on just a smartphone, or in a barebones VR headset like Google Cardboard. Although the word about Splash has been slow to spread, we can only assume Snapchat and related apps will begin working on similar technology soon, if it isn’t already being developed.
One of the biggest reasons 13-34 year olds love Snapchat so much is because it’s all about the here and now. You don’t have to keep up a fake online persona and worry about family members or future employers seeing that stupid photo your friend posted of you in college. We always want to know what our friends are up to at any given minute of the day. Snapchat allows us to share exactly what we’re doing without that little voice in the back of our heads reminding us to keep it professional. With the addition of the Discover page, Snapchat has become a major contender for serious content distribution as well. In fact, eight times more 13-34 year olds turn to Snapchat live feeds over television for the same events. Live feeds offer a more personal touch to viewing major events and happenings all around the world. In my opinion, combining Snapchat and VR is an obvious next step to intensifying the overall viewing experience.
Imagine your friend is on vacation in an exotic place you’ve never heard of. It would be difficult to accurately envision the sights they’re describing and what their trip was like, even with the pictures they took. Now imagine that Snapchat offers a VR option, and your friend has been snapping their hike through a jungle. Click on their story and it’s like you’re right there on the trail with them. You hear a noise behind you and it makes you jump. You look up and see the top branches of the canopy and look down to see your shoes trudging along the dirt path. Now imagine that you can have that same experience with every story any of your Snapchat friends post. Being able to immerse yourself into so many different environments so easily, and experience the experiences your friends are having is an innovation that will change the social media world, and media in general. Although the technology has a long way to go, I’m sure that this is not as far in the distance as we may think.
I am very excited to see how social media companies will attempt to utilize the VR technology available today. Surely, the first few attempts at adapting it will fail, but it will be an incredibly intriguing process to follow. The media landscape has come so far from what it was even 10 or 15 years ago, so who knows what it will look like a year or two from now. Hopefully, it involves me physically laying in bed while mentally tagging along with all my Snapchat friends on every adventure they go on.