Interview with VRS Executive Speaker: Brian Seth Hurst

Alexis MacklinNews, VRS Focus

storytech immersive

Brian Seth Hurst is the Founder and Chief Storyteller at StoryTech Immersive and will be joining Marcie Jastrow from Technicolor to share their insights on the importance of partnerships in virtual reality. We asked Brian to provide his thought leadership on the current state of VR entertainment and what barriers the industry still faces.

VRS Team: What is the biggest potential for VR in entertainment and what is holding it back?

First I’d like to say that I look at VR as part of a much larger category of immersive entertainment which includes AR, 360, dome content, 3D-4D dark rides, location-based experiences, games, and live events on multiple platforms. While both VR and AR seem to be on a good track in enterprise applications, I think there are a number of issues holding back adoption on both the production and consumer sides.

A Market Matures

The technology investments have set up the ecosystem but the investment necessary for great content has not really happened. The entertainment market is maturing slowly- its business models, reach and distribution. There is no clear return on entertainment content investment right now so as per the usual path, marketing dollars are paying for production along with technology companies like HTC and Oculus who need great content for their platforms. This may also hold true for a while but perhaps as the VR arcade business begins to grow and consumers get used to paying for those experiences it will translate into a bigger at home/mobile market. There is also a lack of measurement/ratings across multiple distribution platforms. If people are not paying for VR content then that content will need to be ad-supported. While there are at least three 360 ad networks for 360 video on the web and mobile, what is there for fully immersive VR and how will that develop?

The Need for a VR Marketing Association

There are a lot of friction points for consumers, and I think they are confused. They don’t know the difference between AR, VR and 360 content. While the price points of VR systems are coming down, consumers have to have a compelling reason to buy. It is likely that gamers may lead. We are not at an easy plug and play point yet. It takes a real commitment from consumers to get inside an HMD, even though the next generation may be lighter, wireless and somewhat easier to use there is nothing yet that makes these devices must-haves. There needs to be better consumer education and marketing and to my knowledge, there is yet to be a “Mobile Marketing Association” type organization for VR.  Discovery is also a major issue when consumers are looking for content regardless of the platform. While consumers have relied on programming grids and recommendation engines for TV and the web- nothing truly exists for HMD-driven VR.

Content

I had the opportunity to lead the Immersive Content Leadership Summit at MIPTV last year and one of the leading concerns among executives was the proliferation of mediocre or bad VR and the fear that it that would turn off consumers. As I mentioned, content is hard enough to find, right now it’s a browsing experience rather than a programming experience. As you browse. you don’t really know what the content is until you try it. VR itself is a mix of experiences, games, live events, interactive and cinematic narrative all in one place. That has not really happened with any other medium. So again, how do you make consumers aware of what’s in it for them? Which do you lead with?

I am a cinematic VR producer myself so I look to push those boundaries and create filmic experiences. All a storyteller wants to do is move audiences. I think to do that you have to move beyond the wow of an experience into the wow of a great story. That will serve to help create a sustainable market. This kind of content seems to be coming out of independent filmmakers right now. It’s a generation of autodidacts who are defining a new language of filmmaking while also bringing in legacy techniques. It also seems to be moving so fast it becomes a challenge to teach it in film schools. Fortunately, great film schools actually teach filmmakers how to hack, very handy for VR. I do think best practices and tech standards are quickly being established. Yesterday’s hack is today’s hardware and software.

VRS Team: What has impressed you so far with VR? Is there any experience that blows you away?

This is where the net is cast wide. As I mentioned there are “categories” of VR. Art and museum installations can be brilliant and groundbreaking but I look for the brilliant and groundbreaking in Cinematic VR. This is often not the kind of content you find at film festivals unless it is a VR only film festival. When I first made the move from TV to VR I went on the hunt for independent filmmakers to work with and have been very fortunate. I am ever on that hunt and when I see content that blows me away I immediately reach out. Those amazing filmmakers include Rose Troche (Perspective Chapter 1 and 2), Armando Kirwin (L.A. Noire), Graham Sack (Lincoln in the Bardo), Antoine Cayrol (I Philip, Alteration), Angel Manuel Soto (Bashir’s Dream) and of course Connor Hair and Alex Meader (Real, My Brother’s Keeper).

VRS Team: When did you know VR was going to have an impact on entertainment?

I first saw rudimentary VR at the University of British Columbia back in the early 90’s at a journalism conference. While it was in the early stages it got me, and it got me good. I didn’t know how long it would take but as a storyteller, I could already see its possibilities.

Decades later when the GearVR came out and I watched the intro video that Felix & Paul did for them I cried. I knew the market would take awhile but I also knew that “green fields” are a once in a lifetime occurrence. It was I risk I was happy to take because I literally saw my own future in it. If I didn’t believe so strongly in the possibilities, I never would have jumped. I think its sometimes good for a creative artist to be challenged and maybe even a little bit uncomfortable. I have always traveled the edge. I was part of the original team that developed the TiVo user experience and TV Guide as the very first cross-platform brand. It wasn’t that I knew VR would have an impact on entertainment it was that I knew it would give me the opportunity to have an impact. And what storyteller does not want that?

View the full agenda here.