21/04/2017 – Independent / Science & Technology / Virtual Reality / VR / Augmented Reality / AR

Reality Bytes

As tech giants and specialist start-ups alike funnel an unprecedented level of funding into Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), Daniel Siden, CEO at digital outdoor media tech firm Lightvert, explores the key innovators, and VR/AR’s strong potential to transform the out-of-home advertising sector.


The earliest recorded leasing of a billboard occurred in 1867, marking the start of the out-of-home advertising industry. Fast-forward to the present day and traditional billboards are going digital, as growth in LED advertising displays outstrips the old-fashioned paper kind. Indeed, according to a report by PwC, 87.5 per cent of revenue growth in the US OOH (out-of-home) market over the five years to 2020 will come from digital. On the other hand, traditional formats will experience only a 0.9-per-cent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR).


Looking to the future, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and a number of smaller start-ups are investing heavily in what they see as the next big evolution in display technology: Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). This much-hyped new tech is the stuff of science fiction, although a wide range of VR headsets are already available – from the cheap Google Cardboard (£15), over five million of which have been shipped since launch in June 2014, through to the high-end Oculus Rift, whose eponymous development firm was acquired by Facebook for US$2 billion in 2014. In parallel, Microsoft and a number of start-ups are hoping that Augmented Reality will become the dominant medium, with AR headsets and headset-free technology currently in development.


If you have a VR headset, you can already watch every single YouTube video in VR. Elsewhere, it took just a month after its July 2016 launch for the Augmented Reality app ‘Pokemon Go’ to surpass 100 million downloads, making it the most successful mobile app launch in history, according to SuperData.


As Virtual and Augmented Reality enter the mainstream, and VR/AR hardware becomes more affordable, what impact will that have on the OOH industry? Will we see the rise of a virtual-out-of-home (VOOH) advertising sector in the same way that LED displays created a digital-out-of-home (DOOH) sector?


Deep impact advertising


At LightVert we believe that VR and AR out-of-home advertising technologies will have a major impact. VOOH advertising will radically transform the way we experience outdoor ads. As we walk around our cities, we will see and interact with holographic adverts mixed into the real world. Again, this may sound like science fiction, but companies are already working on technology that could deliver that vision.


Founded in 2011, Blippar – a London based digital marketing company – helps brands use Augmented Reality to interact with customers via a smartphone app. This year, Blippar partnered with cosmetics giant Max Factor to make all their lipsticks ‘blippable’. Shoppers with the Blippar app can now look at a lipstick through their smartphone to reveal digital information about that product, like professional make-up tips. Blippar’s app isn’t specifically designed as an out-of-home advertising platform, yet its ability to overlay digital advertising onto real word objects is directly relatable to the idea of a VOOH advertising sector.


A brave new virtual world


Blippar and Pokemon Go demonstrate how brands can use AR smartphone apps to interact with their customers. However, seeing the world through a phone screen has its limitations, particularly when it comes to the visual impact, accessibility and immediateness of digital billboards. That’s where VR and AR headsets, and their ability to completely transform the way we see the world, may turn out to be a more effective platform to deliver virtual-out-of-home advertising content.


Juniper Research predicts there will be more than 12 million VR headset sales by the end of this year. By 2020, the VR industry will have shipped 30 million headsets globally. Nonetheless, there is a catch with existing consumer VR hardware when it comes to using it as a VOOH advertising platform.


One step beyond


Existing fully-fledged VR headsets from the likes of Oculus Rift must be tethered to a PC or games console, and are designed for indoor use only. Yet this hasn’t stopped Vertebrae – a new breed of VR video start-up based in Los-Angeles – experimenting with virtual product placement. They’ve developed what they call ‘3D Ad Insertion Technology’. This allows content publishers to create interactive 3D ad placements within virtual worlds – the equivalent of Aston Martin cars in James Bond films but for the virtual world, bringing the prospect of virtual ads in the real world one step closer.


There’s only one problem: indoor-only headsets – but Google might be working on a solution to that. According to consumer electronics site Engadget, the tech giant is rumoured to be developing a stand-alone ‘wireless Virtual Reality’ headset that will integrate eye-tracking, sensors and algorithms to augment the reality in front of the headset, displaying digital objects within a view of the real world.


Two other companies are working in the same field: Microsoft and the mysterious billion-dollar start-up, Magic Leap. Both firms are using Augmented Reality to deliver what they call “mixed reality” – a way to engage with digital content in the real world.


Sign of the Times


LightVert is launching its ECHO technology next year – a headset-free, Augmented Reality, virtual-out-of-home advertising platform that can project holographic digital images into real world environments, and crucially for the VOOH market. This can be done on an impressive Times Square billboard scale, with images up to 200 metres tall.


Only time will tell whether a virtual-out-of-home market takes off, but the indications are that large and small companies alike are working furiously on VR and AR media platforms. Those could radically transform the out-of-home advertising industry in the not-too-distant future, the same way that LED displays are doing now.


Daniel Siden is CEO of Lightvert – a digital outdoor media technology company. Lightvert’s revolutionary ECHO technology creates the world’s largest digital outdoor images in almost any location, not only creating a spectacle but dramatically unlocking vast amounts of new, high-value advertising real estate.


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