- Facebook is rumored to be working on a video app that would support "spherical" videos, halfway between video and VR.
- The app would use smartphones' tilt sensors to look around.
- Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook would support spherical video in its news feed.
- Spherical video is part of Facebook's ongoing video push and has tremendous potential for advertising.
- Video is a critical part of Facebook’s overall strategy, which is likely to push FB upward.
Spherical video does for video what Virtual Reality (VR) photography does for still pictures. It can be seen as a more interactive form of video, halfway between traditional video and VR. Spherical videos, which allows viewers to look around in a video, just like in real life, can be produced by combining multiple video cameras or using special spherical video cameras able to capture 360-degree video.
Spherical Videos Could Leverage Oculus Acquisition
Spherical video is best viewed with VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, developed by Oculus VR, which was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion. The Rift, now available to developers, will be sold to consumers beginning Q1 2016. The VR headset will permit viewing spherical videos with a powerful sense of total, 360-degree immersion. A recent Deutsche Bank research note estimates that Oculus VR will sell about 1.5 million headsets next year, initially to hardcore video gamers.
Those who don't have a VR headset like the Rift or similar can view spherical videos on "old" systems with keyboard and mouse interfaces. See, for example, this demo video with people walking in New York City. It's easy to see how, once spherical video technology and interface hardware become more common and sophisticated, the era of VR cinema will begin.
Advanced VR has been used for some time in film industry on the production side, notably in James Cameron's Avatar (2009), but now it will be used to directly enhance the viewer's experience and to create entirely new experiences.
Los Angeles based startup Vrideo, with $1.8 million in seed funding from a group of investors including Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Advancit, Betaworks, and Nas, launched in March a video sharing service for spherical video-makers, dubbed "the home of immersive video" - the YouTube for VR. But YouTube itself has recently introduced spherical video as well.
Spherical Videos Could Take Facebook VR To The Masses
Facebook's new spherical video app would work on both iOS and Android smartphones, and use the accelerometer and tilt feature present in all modern smartphones to look around. Therefore, the mobile video app would offer a more immersive viewing experience than a laptop, but less immersive than a full VR headset. "But an app would help extend Facebook’s presence in virtual reality beyond Oculus and introduce the technology to a much larger audience," notes The Wall Street Journal.
The rumored spherical video app should be seen in the context of Facebook's recent push to challenge Google’s YouTube in online video distribution. The social network is building tools to help video publishers grow their businesses on Facebook, and recently announced platform updates aimed at giving video publishers more flexibility, analytics, and reach. CNBC noted that Facebook’s move is a game changer for content partners, which will create more content on the platform, more people viewing and potential new opportunities for advertisers. It's evident that fully immersive spherical video has awesome potential for advertising.
Fortune notes that Facebook, realizing that its users are shifting to video, has been steadily redesigning its infrastructure to make uploading and watching videos as fast and reliable as possible, to make big money from its nascent mobile video advertising push, which is a critical part of the company’s overall strategy.
In March, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook would support spherical video in its news feed, saying users would be able to "move around inside the video and view it from different angles." Zuckerberg thinks VR could be the next big wave in social media. "Immersive 3D content is the obvious next thing after video," he said in a public Facebook Q&A session in June. In the discussion, Zuckerberg gave intriguing hints at Facebook's research in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other advanced technologies that could power Facebook in the future and have a important impact on video advertising.
It seems likely that, through this and related initiatives, Facebook could become the undisputed leader in video publishing and advertising. If that happens, Facebook's stock will soar.
Cover image licensed from 123RF