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CES 2016

Digital Video, VR, And The Twilight Of TV

Television viewing is on the decline. Cord-cutting went from something your quirky friend did to a totally viable and responsible choice, one that no longer carried the danger of missing out on anything. Nowadays, the ever-important millennial generation is watching more video online than linear television. In fact, video watching has overtaken social networking as the #1 activity people are doing online. Outside of sleep and work, people are consuming video more than they’re doing anything else.

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It’s only a matter of time before digital video surpasses television altogether. At his keynote address at CES on Thursday, YouTube CEO Robert Kyncl projected that the change will happen by 2020. He outlined four key reasons why digital video will win the decade:

  • Digital video is inherently mobile. This is enabled by the marriage of advanced hardware and software, making the experience even better than before.
  • Digital video is diverse and appeals to everyone. Consumers like it because they are empowered with the ability to make videos famous instead of being at the mercy of executives at networks. Also, YouTube has the biggest video library in the world.
  • “Digital video is music.” Currently, more than half of all teenagers use YouTube as a primary means of finding music. YouTube has already paid out over $3B to the music industry via ads.
  • Digital video is immersive, and it’s about to get even more so with VR on the horizon.

On that last point: in the future, digital video will provide way more immersive and interactive experiences than TV. VR is the innovation that will lead the charge. Television viewing is a passive experience. Digital video is less passive, but it’s still not fully immersive. VR is where the shift completes. That is, if VR is successful and fulfills its potential. Kyncl thinks it can, but these four things must happen:

  • Evolution in camera technology
  • Involvement of gifted storytellers
  • Devices that are advanced enough to display it
  • A platform for the content to live on

Kyncl made it clear that YouTube is leading this effort. They announced a partnership with GoPro to advance the VR distribution effort to consumers. GoPro will build the hardware, of course, and YouTube will become the platform where it’s displayed. GoPro has committed to produce consumer products that enable “spherical capture” (aka a 360 degree camera) in the near future.


Together, the two companies hope to democratize the VR viewing experience and change the future of immersive storytelling together. They believe the technology is transformative because it allows viewers to be present and connected and emotionally invested. However, the content must be top-notch for consumers to bite.

There are a few things brands need to start thinking about to prepare for the digital-dominant video age. And it’s about more than merely “not recreating TV advertising on digital”. Brands need to truly understand digital video and the thriving communities that exist around it. They should start finding ways to interact in these very active communities, and should experiment with both long and short-form video platforms and formats.

And there’s a big opportunity here for brands to not just be prepared for the all-digital era, but to shape it themselves, particularly when it comes to VR. Brands, media, and publishers can all help spur on VR adoption by approaching it as a major immersive content platform. With that comes the need for good storytellers, and brands and agencies can unearth and leverage great storytellers—something they’ve done in the past with other mediums—to provide great content. There’s no reason to believe that VR communities won’t mirror the hyper-engaged, fanatical nature of current online video communities. VR could be brands’ best way in.

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