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After several cycles of hype spanning several decades, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies have reached the point where commercially viable products to create and consume immersive experiences are coming to market. As a result, marketers have a new medium—the immersive medium—that they can use to tell stories and engage with audiences in ways like never before.
As explored in the new eMarketer report, “Virtual Reality and Beyond: The Current State and Future Potential of Immersive Digital Marketing Experiences,” VR completely immerses a user inside a virtual world or experience, typically through the use of a head-mounted display (HMD) that is often connected to headphones, controllers and other peripherals that let users navigate through that experience. A key characteristic of a great VR experience is the feeling of “presence”—users feel like they are truly in the synthetic environment being presented.
While VR is fully immersive, AR involves overlaying virtual objects and other types of digital information over the real world, which can be delivered through hardware like smartphones, tablets and HMDs. As a result, AR experiences can be assistive by presenting relevant information based on where a user is at or what activity they‘re performing. Google Glass is a prominent example of an HMD that uses AR to try and provide an assistive experience to users. Also worth clarifying is the term “mixed reality” (MR), which is used to specifically describe experiences with real-time comingling of virtual and physical objects achieved by products like Microsoft‘s HoloLens.
One key reason why there‘s so much confidence in the future of the immersive medium is the scale of investment that has flowed into companies creating VR and AR products over the past few years. Long before Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion in March 2014, the VR system developer had raised $2.4 million through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign—far exceeding its original goal of $250,000 and indicating a strong interest among internet users in finally experiencing high-quality VR in the comfort of their own home.
Google has also made significant investments in the space. Most notably, it led a $542 million round of investment in Magic Leap in October 2014. Reportedly, the company is developing AR technology that will project light onto a user‘s retina to mimic the neurological effects experienced when looking at objects in the real world.
The promise is a much more natural experience of overlying digital renderings onto the real world, instead of strapping on a face-encompassing headset. However, the stealthy nature of the company means that few have actually experienced the technology, and those who have aren‘t permitted to speak about it publicly.
Many other companies working on immersive technology, content and services have received investments to help turn their vision into reality. Venture capital researcher CB Insights found that from Q1 2014 to Q2 2015, more than $1 billion had been invested across 91 deals worldwide.
eMarketer corporate subscription clients can view the full report here.
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