GOING VIRTUAL: Refinery29 is hoping to lead the charge in virtual reality video in the fashion media space.
While several publishers have dabbled in VR by filming their cover shoots for 360-degree viewing, R29 has entered the VR fashion space in a bigger way, shooting eight shows during New York Fashion Week using the technology. Shows included VFiles, Rebecca Minkoff, Derek Lam, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Tibi, Prabal Gurung and Delpozo.
R29 will release the videos of the shows starting Monday on Facebook using the social media firm’s 360-degree video platform, which was launched in September. Essentially, Facebook’s video product gives viewers a VR-like 360 experience without the need to own a headset.
R29 videos can be viewed either on a desktop or mobile phone. Viewers can interact with the video using a mouse, using their fingertips or moving their phone. R29 senior vice president of programming Stone Roberts justified the decision not to go the headset route by pointing out that 60 percent of its visitors access the site on mobile.
The executive said the decision to invest in the technology goes hand-in-hand with the company’s mantra to give its viewers an “immersive look” at “exclusive events.” It also may have to do with the fact that R29 is part of a Facebook test group of media firms and other brands making VR-style videos that may eventually be monetized. (More on that later.)
For R29, the endeavor entailed building a core team of about five employees who could operate and produce the 360 videos. It also meant investing in hardware and software. Although Roberts wouldn’t divulge the full cost of the project, he noted that the camera used to film the shows was in the $2,500 to $4,000 range.
“We’re very much in the initial stages of really crafting the art here,” he said. “We are dedicated to that. I believe this industry is only going to scale.”
He said R29 would test other videos on Facebook 360 in the future, such as documentaries, scripted/animation and live event coverage, but decided to start with filming runway shows since they are “the core to our DNA.”
Since 360 was launched six months ago, more than 20,000 360 videos have been uploaded, with “hundreds” added every day, according to Facebook, which noted that “millions” of people are watching every day and that mobile VR has hit one million hours of video watched.
Facebook has made a big investment in VR, having acquired headset-maker Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion, and it hopes to invest in “social VR,” according to a memo released Sunday afternoon.
“We’ve already helped people connect in a wide variety of ways on mobile devices — ranging from Facebook and Instagram to Messenger and WhatsApp — and now we want to apply that same approach to the new medium of VR,” the memo said. “In the future, VR will enable even more types of connection — like the ability for friends who live in different parts of the world to spend time together and feel like they’re really there with each other.”
Although hardware and software challenges remain, Facebook said that it is seeing traction. For instance, Dior shot its spring 2016 couture show using 360 technology, and since the video posted on Feb. 5, has garnered nearly 550,000 views. Australian retailer David Jones posted its fall 2016 campaign on Feb. 1 and it got nearly 365,000 views, while NowFashion.com shot Lanvin’s fall men’s wear show in late January. It earned slightly more than 12,000 views. The Wall Street Journal shot Jason Wu’s backstage and runway show with the technology last week.
Facebook director of product Fidji Simo told WWD that “360 video is such an exciting format because it can bring people on Facebook into a variety of experiences in a way that was never possible before — you’re able to dive headfirst into the scene, and explore it as if you are there. What Refinery29 is doing with their Fashion Week series is a great example of the way this technology can help creators connect with their audience in a really immersive, engaging format.”
While content shared on the Web is easy to track via impressions or social reach, it is harder to gauge monetary return. To that end, Facebook is currently testing partner monetization with suggested videos — including 360 videos — with participating partners, of which R29 is one. Others include the NBA and Funny or Die. It is still early days for videos earmarked for ads, but when Facebook rolls it out, those videos will be promoted as “Suggested Videos.”
In the meantime, the key benefit to creating 360 videos for media companies is reaching a larger audience in the news feed, in hopes of attracting new fans to their personal pages.
“It’s only a matter of time that monetization becomes part of this world,” R29’s Roberts offered. “When that will happen isn’t as much of a focus for us.”