Consumers are most drawn to travel and music experiences on virtual reality

New research suggests marketers that get into virtual reality now will have the opportunity to become market leaders and capitalise on growing demand among consumers for immersive, high quality content.

With virtual reality (VR) set to become a $1bn (£710m) industry by the end of 2016, savvy marketers are seeking to tap into the platform’s storytelling power to set the agenda for VR excellence.

Virtual reality is engaging a wide spectrum of people, according to new data by research group Ipsos Mori, which surveyed 1,117 UK adults aged 16 to 75 on their attitudes towards the technology.

The statistics show an emerging awareness of VR in the UK, with 59% of men boasting a strong understanding of VR, compared with 46% of women. Men also lead the way in terms of attraction to the technology, with 55% expressing a strong interest in experiencing VR versus 40% of women.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger adults express a greater interest in getting to grips with VR, with 63% of the 16 to 24 age group showing enthusiasm for the technology, compared with 33% of 55- to 75-year-olds.

However, 34% of the total sample admit they do not care about VR, which Ipsos Mori research manager Neil Stevenson sees as an opportunity for marketers. He says marketers can use VR to create engaging, high quality content, but they have to be bold. “Virtual Reality is the perfect storytelling application and if you’re creating a captivating experience, consumers don’t mind if the content is brand-led,” he says.

Problem with perception

The research indicates a perception that gamers are the target audience for VR, an opinion shared by 60% of respondents. “People are interested in VR, but it’s seen as sitting in the gaming niche,” says Stevenson. “They are waiting for the industry to show cool, new VR applications from movies and music to news.”

The content will need to be well thought out and executed to convince consumers that VR can become part of everyday life, as 50% of women and 43% of men fail to see a practical use in their current lives. This opinion becomes more strongly held with age, as 53% of 55- to 75 year-olds fail to see a practical application for VR versus 41% of 16- to 24-year-olds.

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Perceptions around price could also prove a stumbling block, as 66% of the sample agree VR devices are too expensive, which seems at odds with the market. Although Facebook’s Oculus Rift retails for $599 (£414), Samsung’s Gear VR headset is £80 and Google Cardboard is £15, providing more affordable options.

The survey also reveals the need for retailers and brands to offer consumers the chance to trial VR in-store, with 68% saying they would like to try it first before purchase. Events such as Westfield London’s Samsung Galaxy Studio, which showcased its Gear VR technology to 303,700 people in March and April, are a good way of persuading consumers to take the VR experience home, says Stevenson.

Opportunities for VR

The study finds 41% of respondents would like to see VR content from broadcasters such as the BBC, Sky and Channel 4, with 29% opting for on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Only 15% of those surveyed would like to see VR content on newspaper websites such as The Times, Daily Mail or The Guardian. This is despite the fact that The Guardian became an early adopter of the technology in April, launching its 6×9 VR experience of solitary confinement, which could be viewed using Google Cardboard and a smartphone.

However, as many as 33% said they were not sure where would be best to consume VR content, indicating an opportunity for broadcasters and content producers to claim the market early on.

Despite a perception that VR is primarily for gamers, just 31% of respondents express an interest in 3D gaming; it appeals to 52% of 16- to 24-year-olds, compared with only 12% of respondents aged 55 to 75. Men in general are more likely to want to use VR for gaming, at 40% versus 23% of women.

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The ability to travel to different cities proves the most popular VR application at 56%, followed by being in the crowd at a concert (52%) and fantasy scenarios, such as flying or walking on water (45%). This demand plays into the hands of travel agencies like the TUI Group, which last July announced the roll-out of VR headsets in more than 120 travel agencies across Europe.

Social interaction is the least popular application for VR, appealing to only 25% of respondents, closely followed by playing sport (26%) and playing a musical instrument (27%).

Stevenson at Ipsos Mori believes 2016 is a pivotal time for VR in the UK, a year when everything is up for grabs for savvy players looking to get out in front and experiment with the technology, engaging consumers while their perceptions of the technology can still be influenced.

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