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VR: The Medium That Never Was?

Whatever happened to virtual reality becoming the next great advertising and media vehicle?

If you covered media or advertising over the past few years, you surely heard about how VR was set to revolutionize your entertainment life. And you probably had a PR person send you a Google Cardboard device that was pre-loaded with some sort of custom brand VR experience. The Smirnoff virtual lounge. The Mountain Dew snowboarding challenge, the Gatorade hit like Bryce Harper something. You get the idea.

And if you tried these branded VR experiences, and didn’t throw up, you thought ‘cool’— and never tried them again.

Ok, so maybe the lack of ad agency VR stunts isn’t the best barometer for a new medium. But based on the swirl of recent news, it’s starting to feel like maybe VR’s once massive promise was virtual at best.

The Disney-backed VR production company Jaunt just announced major layoffs and a strategy shift towards augmented reality. Oculus’s co-founder is leaving Facebook, and the company is also pulling back on some of its VR options.

Even more telling is the recent silence by some of the biggest players.

“What happened was some of the big adoption numbers predicted by financial forecasters didn’t happen,” said Dario Raciti, who leads the Zero Code gaming division at OMD USA. “So advertisers that tried VR now say, ‘how much do you want to spend when you’re not sure how many people you reach?'”

“Advertisers are skittish. They don’t see the headlines anymore. And some of these VR companies just expanded too fast.”

Forecast: VR Market Will Reach $162 Billion by 2020

Now it seems they are pulling back. A great example is Google. A few years ago, VR experiences, and how they would soon be an integral part of the YouTube experience, and that the low cost Daydream device would soon usher in VR to the mainstream.

These days, you hardly hear Google executives bring VR up. Daydream prices have been slashed.

Meanwhile, media companies aren’t talking much about their unique VR content like they were just a few years ago. Know anybody who watches NBA games in VR?

Raciti noted that gaming companies are still investing in VR, including an upcoming boxing title tied to “Creed 2,” And VR is being used a lot in training and research.

Just not so much in media and advertising.

“There is still a lot of great content out there,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going away. It’s just taking a different route than expected.”