Entertainment aside, it helps to increase empathy and lead to behavioural changes.
What is it like to swim with the dolphins without getting wet, get transported back to prehistoric times without boarding a time machine, or hang out with the polar bears in the Arctic without wearing a heavy winter coat?
Don a virtual reality (VR) headset and the answer becomes instantly clear.
VR is a new form of media that instantly immerses the audience into a setting that mimics reality, and, in certain cases, allows them to interact with this alternative universe. Apart from its obvious applications in the entertainment space, it can also be used in the corporate world and by governments for training and scenario planning purposes.
This was shared by Roosmaryn Spliet, Managing Director of &samhoud Singapore, a VR specialist headquartered in The Netherlands, while at CommunicAsia2017 held earlier this year. Its sister company &samhoud media is the number one distributor of VR cinematic content in the world.
“VR is at the starting phase of the innovation curve. It has many uses and will allow us to learn and experience new things. It’s much better than being in a classroom,” says Spliet. Indeed, if she and her team are right, this new form of media is going to take the world by storm in time to come.
The reasons are compelling. Last year, &samhoud media commissioned a study to examine how VR impacts people. It invited more than 100 individuals to participate in it, drawing attention to the unique features of VR and comparing the cognitive and behavioural effects with a 2D video.
The results showed:
1. VR is more immersive than a 2D video and increases the sense of presence in a non-physical world.
2. VR has a high potential for compelling storytelling.
3. A VR experience has more impact on emotions and cognition than a 2D video, proving that it can potentially change the degree to which media effects its audiences.
4. In a VR experience, people feel more empathy towards the people in the video, which can help organisations generate a stronger connection with their audience.
5. VR has intentional prosocial behaviour, meaning it can lead to behavioural changes and be an effective means to evoke desired behaviour.
“For example, through VR, you can let the audience experience life in Syria so they can better understand the situation there, which will give them a sense of urgency and increase their awareness of the war,” points out Spliet.
Other uses include helping corporates on-board new staff, and allowing them to practice how to interact with customers – all of which the &samhoud group of companies has the capability to support.
Then there is the entertainment function. In 2015, &samhoud media opened the first VR cinema in Amsterdam. Since then, it has a presence in Dubai, the Ukraine and this year, it has plans to open 100 in China in a joint venture with a mall and media company. Spliet’s presence in Singapore hints at expansion plans too in Southeast Asia.
“We aim to create an experience for the audience. The concept is a room with comfortable chairs you can sit in to put on the headset and enjoy the movie. There is a bar for you to have drinks and snacks, as well as staff on hand to help you,” she says.
Movie-goers can watch shows from the genres such as horror, animation and feature films. Spliet reveals that it is quite costly to make a VR film because of the number of cameras needed to capture the space in 360 degrees, “The quality is not high-definition yet either, but I must say it is catching up very quickly.”