This is the final article in a three-part series written by Chris Sutcliffe from the TheMediaBriefing, looking at how 360 video and virtual reality (VR) are huge opportunities for publishers.

The first piece was about what is currently being done in this nascent phase of 360 video publishing, and the second piece discussed what what is required for the medium to become viable for publishers to invest in. This time, we take a look at the new adverting opportunities afforded by 360 video and true VR.

It used to be the case that ad units would pay for a news publisher’s journalistic output. Increasingly, in the age of the native advertisement, the line between the two has become blurred.

At the same time, a news publisher’s output has become much more diversified. It’s vanishingly rare in the close of 2015 to find a legacy publisher who isn’t trying to capitalise on the vast potential of digital video by producing their own video series and channels.

In turn, that’s opened up new channels of revenue as they get into the game of becoming a video producer in their own right who can then produce branded content for their advertising partners.

But the success of those endeavours is dependent on the news publisher’s relationship with its audience. As much as they’re able to while keeping the wall between editorial and commercial departments intact (you hope), it depends on the publisher being able to exchange the trust of its audience for goodwill towards the advertising partner.

And from the point of view of the advertiser, the success of the campaign relies upon the publisher being able to parlay its expertise in producing news or entertainment content into success producing an advertisement. In effect, the more successful a publisher in engendering an emotional response in its audience, the more conversions they’re likely to see from the campaign – and the happier the advertising partner.

And as we’ve seen from the hopes for the effectiveness of virtual reality journalism, the ‘presence’ afforded by the new medium is a step beyond anything currently in terms of engaging an audience and kindling an emotional response. So it should be no surprise that VR offers an advertising opportunity unlike anything prior – and that smart publishers are well-placed to take advantage of that opportunity.

From AdAge:

“Consider Coca-Cola’s approach. Last month it staged a VR experience at the World Cup, where participants entered a replica of the locker room at Brazil’s Maracana Stadium; then, after putting on VR Oculus Rift goggles, they moved from the locker room to the pitch and played on the field, all without getting up from their seat.

“Matt Wolf, Coca-Cola’s head of global gaming, said there’s branding within the experience, but the more valuable aspect is that viewers are getting access to something that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. “It’s about the authenticity of being inside that stadium,” he said. “Yes, thanks to Coke.””

Brands have been on the path to become content producers in their own right for a while now, and while some recent examples suggest they can achieve a measure of success by masking the fact the content is an ad entirely, there are other examples that show significant brand damage can ensue as the result of a poorly executed attempt.

So it makes sense that publishers – the intermediary between the brand and its consumer base, with content production resources to hand and an impetus to be ahead of their audience when it comes to consumption habits – could be the ones to produce that effective branded content. From The Drum:

“While the tech is still in its infancy, McCormick says the acceleration of innovation in this area alongside the proliferation of smartphones and tablets as consumers’ primary devices for watching videos “demonstrates the potential to deliver lean-in experiences and immerse them further into the brand”.

“360-degree camera tech “is a fast emerging technology that will be here to say” says Samuel Freeman, creative director at Brandwave Marketing. He believes that the level of immersion which the tech has not only looks great but also keeps the “viewer engaged and stimulated for a much longer period of time”, crucially giving advertisers more time to win over consumers.”

And we’ve already seen examples of brands capitalising on the immersive potential of VR to promote their brand. MINI, for instance, published this piece which supports head-tracking which is both a piece of entertainmentand an effective demonstration of a car’s performance that wouldn’t have been possible in another medium.

When viewing on a desktop device, click and drag the video around to change view – then buy a Google Cardboard for £10 and experience it as it was meant to be experienced.

Tellingly, the director of that advertisement has also created some purely artistic experiences using the medium of 360 video, suggesting that what is effective in a purely artistic endeavour will also be successful in drawing in audiences in VR.

However, as we discussed in the previous piece, there are certain obstacles that need to be overcome before VR advertising is worth investing in for publishers, not least of which is the reaching the minimum viable audience to make the ROI per ad worthwhile. From VentureBeat:

“Some consider VR to the be the “final frontier” of mediums because any subsequent medium can be invented within VR.

“Companies such as Coca-Cola, HBO, and Nissan have ventured into the uncharted territory of virtual worlds with one-off experiences like Coke World Cup experience. While these individual experiences are novel and exciting, this type of advertising isn’t exactly scalable due to the amount of time and resources necessary to create it.”

But as we discussed, it’s only a matter of time before VR – and its more accessible cousin 360 videos – reaches the mainstream. A report by TOW Centre for Digital Journalism notes:

“Generations that have grown up with rich media on interactive platforms may expect immersive, visceral experiences. Current audiences for news and documentary on linear TV skew older3, whereas more than 70 percent of U.S. teens play video games, according to Pew Research.

“Pew also notes that young audiences are heavy users of interactive, visual media like Snapchat and Instagram (admittedly much less cumbersome platforms than VR headsets). The new storytelling method of the current era is virtual reality, and the media industry expects it to attract major audiences.”

And with major audiences come major advertising opportunities. Whether that’s through content produced on behalf of brands in an incredibly immersive medium, or an event or brand producing it to bolster its ecommerce proposition, it’s evident that if 360 video offers savvy publishers a new way to engage audiences.