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BBC Worldwide shares VR & 360 lessons learned

BBC Worldwide digital head Bradley Crooks is a diligent advocate for virtual reality (VR); "an advocate and a devil's advocate," he explained when he spoke at TV Connect today.

With his "devil's advocate" hat on, he posed some tough questions to his audience, to ask themselves before throwing their weight behind VR or 360 video:

What do you want to get out of it? "Revenue is definitely an area in VR which is, as of yet, unproven," Crooks explained. Effective PR and brand exposure are the main benefits accessible today, he said.

Telling a story: What's your beginning, what's your end? With multiple story routes culminating in various potential endings becoming the new norm thanks to VR, the move away from linear storytelling to a method that's interactive and multifaceted means much more planning, and generating a wealth of footage that probably won't be used.

How will you assess the viewer's experience? Crooks said assessing the experience of each viewer is more difficult than you might expect, as VR tends to result in a highly subjective viewer experience. At this juncture, a few bad user experiences can be particularly damaging to brands working hard to get their VR plays off the ground.

How will you shoot 360 content in the field? So much kit, so many new tools. When shooting 360-degree footage in Columbia, Crooks said his team ultimately took 250kg of equipment with them… and then it rained, constantly. What might be a minor hindrance for regular filming can result in untold disruption when 360 is involved. Digital storage capacity is another concern — your crew will be shooting far more footage than they ever would have done previously.

Will you develop new skill or bring in new providers? Producing VR and 360 video properly requires plenty of new skills, equipment and procedures. Your team will either need to develop their skillsets, bring in new members or outsource some responsibilities that may've been kept in-house previously.

Filming Cats in Flight

Many of these lessons were learned by BBC Worldwide when they filmed on Cat Flight, one of their first major CGI and 360-degree video projects."

"After 48 hours of travelling we were in the middle of nowhere," Crooks explained. Four days of filming and 10 hours of footage ultimately resulted in just eight minutes of 360-degree video.

"We briefed the team to get out of shot as much as possible — that was a mistake," Crooks said. "You end up with heads and feet poking out here and there wherever you look… the best thing to say would've been 'stay in shot and stand stock-still'. That's much easier to edit out."

360 vs VR

Crooks concluded by weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of 360 video and VR, based on the projects he's been part of.

He sees 360 to be more cost-effective and more authentic, giving its audience a better sense of presence developed through a format they're already largely comfortable and familiar with. However, this comes with relatively restrictive, linear content delivery and output of a lower quality — Crooks finds this "frequently disappoints" audiences who are expecting something more immersive and futuristic.

VR and CGI allows for more control, and more flexibility when it comes to delivery of the content. The quality has scope to be much better than 360 (when done right), with greater economies of scale. Unfortunately, these pros come hand in hand with a more sizeable initial investment and an end product that can be less accessible to the audience. Some people come away saying, "this just isn't our thing", Crooks explained.

Jeremy Coward is Community Manager of IoT World News

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