Sometimes a particular product or brand turns out to be especially central in transforming an entire industry. Looking back at how the world of OTT has evolved and developed, you can see how the iPhone and iPad were particularly influential in shaping the way people consume video. They paved the way for new formats such as short-form and user generated content, and created the perfect conditions by driving up user demand for the proliferation of original content such as TV shows, films and documentaries. Monetization opportunities like in-app purchases and $10 streaming app subscriptions became the norm. And as the content flowed, viewers started to watch what they wanted, whenever, and wherever they felt like it. Consumers had new-found accessible and convenient ways to access video content on the go.
Skip to 2023 and it looks like Apple has done it again. With the unveiling of the Vision Pro, the company has kickstarted the spatial computing era. Immersive technology has finally reached the tipping point that we have all been waiting for. But what will this mean for the OTT industry? Will immersive experiences replace passive content consumption as we know it? And could immersive content become so captivating and enjoyable to consume that providers and brands that don’t offer a quality immersive experience will start to be viewed as substandard, in the same way as broadcasters and operators that didn’t have a mobile app a few years ago were?
With the advent of spatial computing, we’re stepping into a new era in the video industry where we’ll see brand new content formats, monetization prospects, and use cases. Immersive technology is set to attract and engage the masses like never before, and content owners will be empowered to create captivating and engaging immersive experiences that were once unimaginable.
In the near future, we will begin to see more content delivered as 180/360-degree videos, providing viewers with a new level of immersion and interactivity. Video providers will use VR technology to enable live event streaming that makes users feel as if they are physically present, and to create interactive storytelling experiences where viewers feel part of the narrative. Viewers will be able to truly step into the content and be fully immersed in their favorite video experience.
Holographic content formats will also take the OTT experience beyond traditional flat-screen viewing by introducing the illusion of three-dimensional objects and scenes. With holographic content, users can better appreciate sports events, or meet the cast of their favorite TV show. Advertisers will be able to capitalize on this through immersive advertising that captivates audiences with eye-catching and interactive holographic ads. These formats could also be used to create virtual concerts and performances delivered from the viewers living room, where artists appear as holograms, providing a unique and immersive experience for fans.
All this being said, we won’t see traditional content disappear. Rather than replacing it entirely, these new formats will be used to complement traditional content.
A plethora of new revenue streams will open up as a result, as content providers are able to ticket for a whole range of events such as live sports, music concerts, theater-like performances, and even live classes with experts and professionals. Ads will also improve in these new platforms. They will become more interactive, personalized and fun which, by extension, also makes them more engaging. This will benefit advertisers and also increase ad revenue for video providers.
As video services evolve to provide not just videos, but a door to another “place” where consumers can experience immersive videos and interact with other fans, we may see some subscriptions becoming more expensive, but they will be delivering a whole lot of extra value. This flood of new users will open an opportunity for branded spaces, creating a whole new revenue stream from sponsors willing to be visible in this new media.
Each brand will create its own metaverse; a place to watch videos with other fans or friends in a virtual setup. This will quickly turn into virtual attraction parks with branded games -imagine, for example, visiting the Lord of Rings’ locations, train with Legolas' bow and meet the main characters of the movie. At home, people will have glasses for everyone in the family, and they will enjoy shared experiences such as watching a holographic sport event or interacting with 3D experiences in a documentary.
Sports is going to be the first vertical to majorly benefit from the spatial computing era. Everyone in the world could buy a ticket for the best seats in the stadium, and have access to multiple cameras, watch replays from any angle, while viewing game and player statistics. Fans will experience the best of both the stadium and the home viewing worlds.
TV shows and movies will take more time to jump on board to offer immersive platforms. The traditional cinema is easy to create today because the directors can choose the angle and perspective. Immersive storytelling will require new techniques and workflows that we don't have today. Immersive formats will also be used to complement traditional content by providing behind-the-scenes snippets, full-immersive mini productions, or even meet the cast and characters as holograms in your living room. It won’t surprise me if Apple is already preparing all of this for their Apple TV+ catalog.
I also believe that we will begin to see immersive devices giving voice assistants a body, which might change how we interact with them going forward. From simple voice commands, we’ll move to fully fledged conversations and every video service will have its own voice assistant that will guide us to find the best content to watch. These virtual assistants can even take on different styles and characters that match the actors and characters of the brand.
Apple Vision Pro is just the beginning. This is more of a DEV kit premium device that will set the reference for everyone, but it won’t be applicable to the mass market. New Apple devices will likely come in 2025 at a cheaper price point but they won’t replace the phone just yet. In fact, we will likely not have one single device to rule them all, but different ones for the types of experiences we want to have: mixed realty (MR) glasses like the Apple Vision Pro for more immersive at-home experiences, and augmented reality (AR) glasses for outdoor casual experiences. Mobiles will still be there as a handheld private device, with a camera that is not attached to your face.
A new wave of AR technology is coming to the market. At CES earlier this year, I tried AR lenses with a vast field of view and perfect brightness and by pushing a button, a new opaque layer instantly transformed them into VR glasses. This is the technology that I, and many more with me, have been dreaming about. Now it’s ready and coming very soon. The general public is looking at Apple, but many other providers are going to surprise us with new models next year.
The possibilities are only limited by our imagination. Until recently, it was difficult for many people to envision what immersive experiences would look and feel like. But now that Apple has successfully introduced and communicated the concept of spatial computing to the world, we’ve finally broken through that barrier. This has already opened the floodgates for increased investment in XR technologies and widespread development of immersive content. Many video providers will already be calculating how they can quickly follow in the footsteps of Disney+, to deliver their own immersive experiences.
As XR becomes a natural extension of media consumption, content creators will start to produce content for the three-dimensional space that surrounds the viewer. The future of immersive OTT will not be limited to one or two categories but will encompass a wide array of experiences, including sports, movies, TV series, music, documentaries, and factual content.
Providers who sit back and wait to see how it all unfolds will quickly get left behind. At the very least, it’s time for OTT providers and content producers to start planning their move into the world of immersive experiences and XR. Make no mistake, these experiences are going to redefine the OTT video industry, and content creators, providers, brands, and developers need to seize the opportunities presented by spatial computing.
The future is immersive, and it's time to jump in and embrace it.