Facebook’s virtual reality division launched a new Venues app last week. So now, people can attend events like concerts from wherever they may be, by simply putting on some goggles.
Where’s the best place to sit at an event? Some might prefer the front row to be directly next to the big name on stage. Others might opt for proximity to an exit to slip out unnoticed to take a phone call. Oculus, Facebook’s virtual reality division, wants to redefine the choice location. On May 30, the company launched its new Venues app with an invitation to “experience the action like never before from the best seat in the house” — which may be in your living room, since the app helps you experience the sights and sounds of a physical event venue without ever leaving home.
Oculus’ first VR Venue was one of the most storied concert settings: Colorado’s Red Rocks. Instead of booking flights to Denver, viewers donned their VR headsets to catch the Vance Joy concert on May 30.
Oculus’ primary aim seems to be recreating the feeling of being with real people. “You can attend live Venues events with your friends and family and even meet new people,” a statement on the company’s website reads. “It’s easy to connect with someone based on common interests and mutual friends from Facebook if you turn on social sharing.”
Disclosure: I don’t own an Oculus Rift, so I didn’t tune in. I’ve been to Red Rocks, though, and can say without hesitation that I would prefer breathing in the mountain air to humming along in my living room. I’m skeptical of the Venues experience, but I also recognize that there will be millions of prospective attendees who do not share my feelings. They will be more than happy to part with their money for the Oculus Rift, especially as the price tag of the headset continues to fall. When Facebook announced Oculus Venues earlier this year, Nick Borelli, president of Borelli Strategies and a speaker at PCMA’s upcoming Education Conference in Cleveland, commented on his website that VR can make events feel very different.
“Oculus Venues could be revolutionary for the live-event industry beyond even what live-streaming has accomplished,” Borelli wrote at the time. “The app is focused on sporting events, comedy shows, and concerts shot in VR. Where it goes from there will depend on consumers as well as early adopters. Content will initially be supplied by partners like NextVR, which has relationships with some of the largest sports organizations such as the NBA, NFL, and WWE. Designing events for both live attendees and virtual ones will add another dimension of creativity, technology, and opportunity for those who adopt VR for their goals.”
Sports arenas and concert venues are obvious potential places for Oculus to connect with fans, and it would seem that convention centers and hotels have less appeal. But one big cause for concern among organizers of traditional conferences and meetings should be Facebook’s mass of data — enabling the company to be in a better position to facilitate networking than most events. Consider CNET Senior Editor Scott Stein’s test run of the Venues experience. “I found myself hopping around and having conversations with lots of people,” Stein wrote after participating in a VR viewing of an NBA game, “at first shyly, then a little more confidently. A pop-up dashboard showed me who was in the room, and Facebook’s software aims to pair newcomers with people you might have something in common with: shared interests or common friends on Facebook.”
Face-to-face events lack that kind of dashboard. Sure, name badges, location-based services, and match-making platforms might help like-minded attendees find each other, but at most networking receptions, colleagues tend to gather with people they already know. Will wearing a VR headset more efficiently connect attendees with each other? The answer is yes, if — or as — Oculus grows in popularity. Check out the full calendar of summer events planned.