Why VR might be a bust for publishers

Media tech expert Stephen Masiclat thinks publishers need to pay attention to the promise of augmented reality rather than be distracted by the virtual reality buzz.

Publishers are increasingly dipping their toes into virtual reality (VR). The New York Times, Condé Nast, and Time Inc. have all released VR apps in the past year, offering consumers access to 360-degree video, a stepping stone towards interactive VR (here’s the difference between the two). Platforms are placing big bets on VR too.

Facebook purchased the VR company Oculus Rift in 2014 for $2 billion, and at the time Mark Zuckerberg predicted that VR would become a powerful way for users to play games, interact socially, and consume media. He compared VR to the internet, arguing that one day VR will become a pervasive part of consumers’ lives.

Despite growing buzz around VR, Stephen Masiclat, director of the New Media Management program at The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, says that its mostly hype. “In my opinion no technology has promised more, delivered less, and destroyed more wealth than virtual reality,” he says.

Masiclat has spent much of his career researching emerging technology and its impact on the media business. He argues that despite the excitement around VR, there are huge barriers to widespread platform adoption and an unlikely path to profitability for publishers. Where publishers need to be paying greater attention, says Masiclat, is augmented reality (AR). Unlike VR, AR is easy to use, relatively inexpensive to develop, and most importantly, solves a problem for consumers: AR sifts through the media noise to bring consumers content that’s relevant, useful, and timely.

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