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VR Video: Boom or Bust?

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A Unisphere Research study commissioned by Level 3 Communications shows a marked uptick in interest in virtual reality video delivery.

The study, titled “The OTT-Video Services Market: Today’s Trends and What Is Next for 4K, HDR, HFR, and VR,” is based on a survey conducted in partnership with Streaming Media magazine. In all, 628 people from media and entertainment companies across the globe responded to the survey and gave their insights into many over-the-top (OTT) topics, from high-dynamic range (HDR) and high frame rate (HFR) enhancements to 1080p video as well insights into their thinking about emerging formats such as Ultra HD (UHD or 4K) and VR video.

Level 3 was quite interested in understanding virtual reality better, and the survey responses provided keen insight into the world of VR. To add interest around the survey, Level 3 offered a VR-centric prize: Respondents were entered in a drawing for an Oculus Rift VR headset. 

After assessing the survey data, contributing editor Tim Siglin, who authored both the survey questions and the final analysis, said his mind had changed about the potential for VR video delivery.

"When I started the process of crafting questions for this second annual survey on OTT for Level 3, I was a VR video skeptic," Siglin says. "But it became clear during the analysis phase that a VR video strategic decision has tremendous mindshare for those companies already offering OTT services.”

Interest in VR video fell heavily along lines of survey respondents offering OTT services, which accounted for about half of all responses. Other respondents were either thinking about launching OTT services or were part of not-for-profit groups using online video platforms (OVPs) or augmenting internal delivery with an external content delivery network (CDN).

OTT service providers favored VR video by a slight margin, with just over half stating they were at least researching VR's potential. That group included those who were either getting ready to launch or have already launched VR video content delivery.

For those who believe VR video is here to stay, the primary challenges to overall adoption fall into two areas: business and technical.

On the technical front, the lack of hardware was a notable concern, as was the issue of competing hardware standards.

Bandwidth was also a concern, since a VR video stream needs to be able to sustain a wider field of view than a typical video stream. While most VR video is lower resolution than 1080p video, the wider field of view requires a higher number of pixels, which in turn requires a higher bandwidth.

On the business front, the lack of consumer awareness or interest was high on the list, and there continues to be uncertainty around the monetization of VR video and virtual reality ads. Fear of competition from free services and even VR video content created by consumers (UGC, or user generated content) were also high on the list.

The UGC concern is valid, given that relatively few professional VR video rigs exist, and most current VR video rigs are a compilation of consumer gear that could be pieced together by enthusiastic hobbyists making and marketing their own content.

On the more traditional OTT front, the need for quality CDN services continues to grow, in line with the overall growth expectations of the OTT industry. Over two-thirds of respondents that offer OTT services expect to see at least double-digit OTT revenue growth within the next year.

Almost half of respondents expect to see OTT revenue growth up to 50 percent year-over-year from 2015 to 2016, and nearly 20 percent anticipate high growth of over 50 percent in that same timeframe.

Finally, because OTT services need to differentiate themselves, some OTT providers expect to use live OTT content as their primary differentiator. That calls for an increase in CDN services that can handle live OTT on an equal footing with more popular video-on-demand (VOD) content delivery that most CDNs are geared towards. If the survey responses are any indication, this will mark the first time the OTT industry has emphasized live content (both live events and live linear channels) over typical VOD or catch-up offerings.

These details and more can be found in “The OTT-Video Services Market: Today’s Trends and What Is Next for 4K, HDR, HFR, and VR” report, available for free download.

For other current research, visit StreamingMedia.com Research Reports.

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