At Sundance this year, I had a chance to catch up with a couple of representatives from Google to talk about what’s happening on the YouTube VR platform with 360 videos. I talked with Jamie Byrne, YouTube’s Director of Global Creator & Enterprise Partnerships as well as Julia Hamilton Trost, Google VR’s Business Development & Content Partnerships. We talked about their YouTube VR application, what they’re doing to do to empower content creators, how they 360 video as a gateway into higher end VR, and some of the potential future to add more volumetric and interactive elements to the YouTube platform in the future.
LISTEN TO THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
Here are a number of 360 videos that were mentioned in this interview.
The Unboxing Time Machine – NES 1985
Rhomaleosaurus: Back to Life in Virtual Reality #PreviouslyOnEarth
The Dropper – A Minecraft 360° Video
Meredith Foster giving a 360 tour of her apartment
New York Times is doing a Daily 360 video
Donate to the Voices of VR Podcast Patreon
Support Voices of VR
[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So on today's episode, I'm going to be looking at YouTube, which is probably one of the most compelling applications that Google has developed so far for virtual reality. So Google's kind of in a weird spot, mostly because they're not focused on necessarily generating the highest end level of virtual reality, but they're really looking at scale. So they started with Google Cardboard to be able to turn anybody's cell phone into a immersive 3D viewer. That was great for YouTube. It was also great for the potential of moving into WebVR, which they're also been working on a lot. And they've also been focusing on like education, so Google Expedition. So to be able to take that scale both with the Google Cardboard and eventually with the Daydream VR, and to be able to get it into the classrooms and start to use virtual reality for educational purposes. Now, because Google is kind of in this nebulous middle ground of focusing on the lowest end of VR, YouTube in that way is kind of the best platform for them to show off 360 degree video. which really matches the constraints of a 3DOF mobile headset like the Daydream. So I'm going to be talking today to YouTube's Jamie Byrne and Daydream's Julie Hamilton-Trost about YouTube and what's happening on their platform, where it is now, and where they're planning on taking it in the future. So we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. But first, a quick word from our sponsor. Today's episode is brought to you by the Voices of VR Patreon campaign. The Voices of VR podcast started as a passion project, but now it's my livelihood. And so if you're enjoying the content on the Voices of VR podcast, then consider it a service to you in the wider community and send me a tip. Just a couple of dollars a month makes a huge difference, especially if everybody contributes. So donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So this interview with Jamie and Julia happened at the Sundance Film Festival that was happening from January 19th to 29th, 2017 in Park City, Utah. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:21.960] Jamie Byrne: So I'm Jamie Byrne, director of Top Creators. I also oversee VR content for YouTube. And so yeah, so I work very closely with the Daydream team and the YouTube VR team to build out a content plan and content strategy for YouTube VR.
[00:02:35.825] Julia Hamilton Trost: Hi, Julia Hamilton Trost. I'm on the Daydream and Google VR team, focused on VR video content and working with Jamie and the YouTube team to get great video content up on Daydream.
[00:02:47.155] Kent Bye: Great. So what can you tell me about VR content on YouTube? What is the state and where things are at now, and where do you see it going?
[00:02:55.366] Jamie Byrne: Well, I think we're at a really exciting time because it's really just the beginning. Last year I used to say we were in year zero, so this obviously has to be year one. But I think the state of VR content on YouTube is we're learning. I think at this point in the market, we don't know what's going to work and what's not going to work with the YouTube audience or maybe VR content in general. So what you'll see or what you see us doing is a lot of experimentation. We're working with a lot of our different partners from media companies to independent creators, exploring different types of formats, exploring formats on YouTube that have historically been very popular, seeing how those translate to VR so that we can understand what the future might be in store and how we should focus not only our efforts but guide our creators as they think about expanding into this space.
[00:03:39.835] Kent Bye: Yeah, and so I know that YouTube has an app for watching 2D videos. And there's also a capability of watching 360 videos within that. And so do you have any sort of sense of how people are using the app right now? Are they mostly watching these 2D experiences? Are they also kind of getting in? And just curious to hear some metrics that you have so far.
[00:04:00.172] Jamie Byrne: Well, so I think there's two things, right? There's the core YouTube app, which is a 2D experience. You can watch 360 videos, you know, kind of through the magic window format. We also have the VR app, which is available on Daydream, which has been built from the ground up to create a VR-specific experience. So everything about that experience has been designed with VR in mind, from kind of the environment that you're in, to the browsing experience. In that VR app, you can view 360 and VR videos that are completely immersive. You can also view the entire YouTube corpus in a 2D kind of theater mode or cinema mode. We think this is really important because in these early phases, content is important. People are not going to buy headsets if there isn't really compelling content for them to watch. So being able to provide this massive library of YouTube with some VR and 360 videos growing every day, but also the ability to watch your favorite videos in a really immersed environment on a theater mode is an important part of the ecosystem. I don't think we're releasing kind of the metrics yet in terms of how that split is broken out. However, you know, we are seeing very healthy viewership of immersed videos, 360 and VR, but a lot of people are watching their favorite 2D videos as well.
[00:05:13.589] Kent Bye: Yeah, and so Julie, what can you tell me about what you're working on and focusing on on VR right now?
[00:05:19.755] Julia Hamilton Trost: Yeah, I think we're honestly trying to find great content to get up on the platform. And I think it's like Jamie said, working with YouTube creators who are, we know are proven and have great audiences, but then also thinking about VR experts and bringing them over to the YouTube platform and really thinking about the evolution of VR video, and what does that mean down the road? What does that mean over the next year? Interactivity, how will those two converge? I think we're excited about all of those. So it's looking and talking to partners, having those conversations, and starting to really think about a pipeline.
[00:05:50.920] Kent Bye: Yeah, and it seems like one of the components of successful YouTube creators are a level of authenticity that they're able to bring to their personality into whatever they're working on. And so, do you see that as a common thread between these creators that are doing 2D and whether or not they're going to be able to bring that same level of authenticity into a immersive 3D experience and then I guess the big question is what is the VR ad that they're not able to do in 2D and how are they able to start to use the unique affordances of virtual reality?
[00:06:22.134] Jamie Byrne: I think that's been one of the most exciting things in these early phases right it's only been what three or four months that Daydream has been available a lot of the early content that we created with some of our creators was exploring how existing formats or existing creators could translate to VR so we had Creators like Meredith Foster, who's a DIY beauty creator, who took folks, her fans, on an 11-minute tour of her apartment. And it's incredibly compelling because she takes you through every little design decision she made as she kind of styled her apartment. And that's the kind of authenticity that her fans expect from her in her traditional videos. they now get to see it in a really kind of unique way and actually go into her house with her. We also have had vloggers who have done, there's a guy named Fousey who is a vlogger who talks a lot about self-improvement, who took his viewers on a skydiving trip and then a hang gliding trip, like conquering his own fears. And for me, it was really exciting to see, you know, his vlogging style translate, you know, not only into like physical activities, which was not usually what he was working on, but also into VR where you could actually really kind of be immersed in the experience that he was having. So we do think that I think long term the existing YouTube creators and then creators that maybe we're not even aware of yet are going to use VR to take themselves to a new level.
[00:07:42.970] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that's one of the things that I find really compelling about immersive virtuality experiences of breaking through that 2D frame and allowing me to be transported into another place and taking a tour through someone's house. Or I'd imagine that travel or being able to take guided tours through different physical places that have, you know, magnificent architecture or things that are very vast and big. So I'm just curious to hear some of the other things that you've seen that, you know, you're looking for great VR content, but what are those elements of great VR content that you've started to see?
[00:08:13.311] Julia Hamilton Trost: Yeah, I think we talked a little bit about this, but VR, not just for VR's sake, what is it doing that's different? So looking at content that's really teleportation. So we do believe strongly in 3D and stereoscopic and in the past that's been hard. So one of the things we want to do is get tools to our creators to be able to make that easier so that teleportation and that feeling of presence is really there. So creators who do that really well are some of the ones Jamie described. But finding new creators and finding new formats to get that sense of teleportation. So travel for sure. Fashion is one area where there's a lot of gating factors to people being able to go to a fashion show. So how do you take a New York Fashion Week experience and really unpack that in VR? not just stick a camera on a runway, but take someone behind the scenes, understand the designer, why they chose to do a show the way they did, sit with them as they do the casting call, really see how that fashion show was built, and then actually watch it happening, feel like you're there. Things like that, I think we're really excited about, and I think those are the things that are really gonna push adoption when it's VR, not just for VR's sake, but it really is transporting you. Travel, again, being another example.
[00:09:24.780] Kent Bye: And have the Odyssey Jump cameras been generally available for any creators, or are you still kind of in a limited beta testing?
[00:09:32.767] Jamie Byrne: So I think, you know, as we think about VR, one of the things that's really important to us is enabling our creator base. And that means giving them access to tools and to learning so that they can take their own steps into VR. So yes, the Odyssey cameras are available in a few ways. We have them at the YouTube Spaces, so any creator over 10,000 subs can come take a quick class, and then check the camera out and use it. We've also created grant and loan programs. So for some creators who raise their hand and say, listen, I'm going to really focus on that this year. I'm going to do 10 hours of content over the next 12 months. We might say, here, you can have a camera as long as you deliver that volume. And in other cases, someone will say, you know, I have this unique opportunity to go to this place or film this specific thing. I think it'd be fantastic in VR. We'll loan them a camera for one or two weeks. We're working really hard to make the cameras available to creators from really big companies to independent creators. And the reason, I think, is really important. If you look back on the history of YouTube, there are content formats today that are billion-dollar businesses. You know, watching people play video games, Let's Play videos, beauty tutorial videos. If you had gone back to 2006, 2007, and told someone that those would be billion-dollar content categories, they wouldn't have believed you, right? So what happened was the YouTube creators innovated new formats, viewers found it fascinating, and it grew in an incredible way. For us to be successful, and I think even for the entire VR industry to be successful, what we actually have to do is unlock the power of creators. Let them figure out what the next format is. There is a VR video format that five years from now may be a billion-dollar category that hasn't been invented yet. So we want to make sure we get the tools in creators' hands so that they can invent that stuff for us on our platform.
[00:11:21.803] Kent Bye: Coming to Sundance here, I was reading some analysis from people within the industry. One of the phrases they had was FANG, which is Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google getting into the content game and really changing the ecosystem for independent content. It seems like we're in the golden era of TV content and these long-form episodic shows. And also independent film as well, I think, is finding new audiences. And so it feels like VR is at the very beginnings of that. How do you see this unfolding for the revenue streams and business models for independent content creators? Because I think that's probably the biggest open question. for people getting into VR right now, is to build the audience, the hardware's there, the technological platform's there, but in terms of actually getting them paid, is this something that Google's gonna start to fund and support more independent creations, or is it through the normal business models of YouTube, or maybe you could talk about where it's at now and where you see it going.
[00:12:19.895] Jamie Byrne: Sure. So I think there's a few things. So I think in these very early days, it is about experimentation. So we are identifying things that we want to understand and learn. And in some cases, yes, we will finance or fund content to do those experiments with certain set of creators. Monetization for creators and for media companies and partners. comes with scale and audience, and so that has to grow. And we feel really good about the growth that we're seeing today. Daydream's only been available for about four months. We have four new Daydream-ready phones were announced at CES. There's more on the way. So we feel good about the growth trajectory. And then as YouTube will also go on to many other VR platforms over the next couple of months, And so the audience there will expand. As that expands, audience sizes for VR content will grow. We do run traditional video advertising against the 360 video versions of the content. And we also have ads in the app that are available. So we do think in the beginning, some ad monetization will help support the creators. And then there are other models that we will explore over time, whether it's per downloads or subscriptions, like all these things are possible as the market continues to grow. We'll kind of adjust by based on what we're hearing from creators they need.
[00:13:30.580] Kent Bye: And it seems like Daydream is definitely taking a very similar ecosystem approach as Google is taking with Android. And maybe you could talk a bit about expanding the Daydream ecosystem and what you see there.
[00:13:41.023] Julia Hamilton Trost: Yeah, so really our mission behind Daydream is this VR for everyone play. So we had success with Cardboard in getting that scale out there, but then we wanted to create a premium experience, mobile VR still. But to what Jamie was saying, we will see all Android phones come out as Daydream ready in 2017 and 2018. So as that happens, each of those phones launch, more carriers come on board, and we see more scale. We see more phones, Daydream ready phones in the hands of users, and then we see more headsets coming out. We're in five countries right now, so US, Canada, UK, Australia, Germany, and that's going to expand over the next couple months and throughout 2017. So we see a big inflection point probably at the end of the year in terms of scale.
[00:14:23.762] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think there's a debate within the VR community in terms of 360 video is not really necessarily being considered VR. I think part of the thing is people want to be able to interact dynamically in different ways. And I see that there's computer-generated experiences that are volumetric, but yet there's constraints both in what YouTube is doing already, but also what mobile VR is capable of with not having six degree of freedom tracking. In some ways, it's a perfect pairing of mobile VR with a 360 video because the constraints match each other. And it's able to push the medium forward in a way that I think is unique. And I would consider it virtual reality. But I'm just curious to hear some of your thoughts of where VR is going in terms of the volumetric side and the interactivity side, and whether or not YouTube as a platform would expand in some ways to enable that type of interactivity.
[00:15:17.085] Jamie Byrne: Yeah, so I mean I think on the 360 video versus VR side, it's something we talk about and think about as well. In some ways we think it's kind of like an entry level or an introduction, right? If we can introduce a large number of viewers to the idea that there's other ways to view video that could be more experiential, could be more immersive. Is that a baby step to buying a headset? We think so. But yes, there's obviously some things to think about in terms of like, is the 360 version present the best possible version, when we know the immersive version actually is more transportive or is kind of more compelling in some ways. So we're thinking a lot about that. But I think at this moment, we think that they are pretty complimentary. And I think for a lot of creators, Because it's available on both platforms, 360 and VR, you're able to expose your content to millions of viewers in a way that if it was headsets alone, you might not be able to. In terms of innovation, I think one of the things you've seen on YouTube, hopefully, is that we're constantly innovating and pushing boundaries. So you look back on the history of the formats we've supported on YouTube, whether it's you know, high def or HDR and, you know, 3D, you know, five years ago and now VR, we're constantly pushing boundaries. So, we are looking at ways to introduce interactivity and how we support more volumetric video. So, there's a lot of interesting things that the teams are working on that some of which we may see this year and some which may follow in the coming years.
[00:16:37.107] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think one of the unique things about the Daydream headset, it's I think it's the only headset that really has a three degree of freedom controller. And so I'm just curious to see what kind of interactions that you've seen that are unique, both from how people are maybe using as a user interface device, but also just being able to trick the mind enough to still give some sort of interactivity, even if it's not a sixth degree of freedom of full embodiment, but close enough.
[00:17:00.874] Julia Hamilton Trost: Yeah, there's been a lot of interesting use cases. So the Guardian and their app, there's one piece of video, it's called Underworld, and you go down under the sewers in London, and you're able to use the controller as a flashlight. It's pretty simple, but it's pretty compelling because you are choosing your path to go down through the sewer system, and you have someone narrating, and then you use the flashlight to guide your way. So that's just a basic use, but it's really, it makes you feel like you're part of the experience. So I like that interactivity. I also feel like within YouTube VR, there's unique use cases for the controller. If you're watching a video and you want to pull around, there's content happening behind you, you can actually use the controller to grab the screen and pull it around you. So there's really innovative ways of using the controller. It may not be with the video content, but just within the YouTube VR app.
[00:17:48.808] Kent Bye: And I think one of the biggest missing apps on the Gear VR is that there's no native YouTube application. And I think that there's some things that you can do with WebVR and potentially go that way. But I think there's something that's lost of not having a native integration. And so I'm just curious to hear the state of whether or not we're going to see a YouTube application on the Oculus platform and or the Gear VR.
[00:18:11.398] Jamie Byrne: Well, I won't speak to that part specifically, Oculus and Gear VR, but I will say that you should expect YouTube VR to be on a wide variety of VR platforms. We think that's an important part of the evolution of YouTube. And today, YouTube is available pretty much on every device and living room and whatnot. So I would expect to see YouTube continue to expand to other platforms.
[00:18:32.814] Kent Bye: What's some of the most memorable moments that you've had seeing either a YouTube 360 video in virtual reality?
[00:18:42.113] Julia Hamilton Trost: Yeah, so, okay, there's a couple. I think one is seeing these formats that have worked well in 2D really translate well to VR in some of the examples that Jamie gave. There's also Unbox Therapy did a cool, did a really cool video of, I think it was the Nintendo 1985. They did a VR video and you're actually able to look at it in 3D, right? So you're there while he's unboxing, you're going back in time, but you're doing it through a medium that's futuristic like VR. So he just brings this energy to it. So I think that was a really cool moment. There's also a couple of pieces from the Cultural Institute that they've worked with the Natural History Museum in London to bring Romaliosaurus to life within the Natural History Museum. I think that was a great piece that we've seen a lot of people kind of duck as the Romaliosaurus swims by them and watching people watch that has been a pretty cool experience too.
[00:19:32.884] Jamie Byrne: And I think one of the things that I think is really exciting is what's happening with game engine type content. So, you know, Minecraft, you see a lot of people starting to experiment with Minecraft output. And the thing that's great about that is that the production barrier is relatively low. So it makes it that creators can produce things relatively quickly and efficiently, which will give us some volume. And it's incredibly immersive. And as I think we know, Gaming related content is some of the most popular on YouTube So those types of things will help us push forward and convince people to maybe buy a headset So I think that's one of the things that we're excited about as well Yeah, I think probably the biggest limitation is the camera integration within the software to be able to actually broadcast out a volumetric Experience is that something that you're looking at? It is something that we look at and talk to a lot. We're talking to a lot of players in the space about it. And again, there's plug-ins for Minecraft that allow you to do it, so we're excited when we see those things, and we think there'll probably be more official-type integrations in the future.
[00:20:28.101] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality, and what it might be able to enable?
[00:20:35.926] Jamie Byrne: Well, I mean, I think that we've talked a little bit about the ability to take people to places that, you know, maybe they can't go to, right? They either can't, it's not accessible to them for whatever reason, it's too dangerous to go there, so the ability to take people to those places we think is a really powerful part of VR. On YouTube, a lot of the viewers have really strong connections to the creators that they follow. They feel a very personal connection. We're really excited about the ability of VR to kind of create that, to even deepen that connection, right? The idea that you can feel like you're sitting next to a creator, and in their world, we think is going to be very, very powerful, not only for the creator, but for the viewers on YouTube. So we think it's some of those more traditional things that people think about in terms of VR, in terms of transporting you somewhere, but also we think there's this audience connection, which is a really powerful part of YouTube today, that's going to translate really nicely into VR.
[00:21:31.209] Julia Hamilton Trost: I see social being a huge part of it. Social experiences through VR, That can be a lot of different things, but I do think social connection, we're social beings. We don't want VR to make us feel isolated. So I think figuring out that path to social through our first party apps like YouTube, through the apps that we have partners building, social to me and VR is a big next step. It'll happen in 2017, I think, but I think over the next five years, we'll see even more of that.
[00:21:59.089] Kent Bye: Is that something that you're also looking at in terms of doing a shared social viewing of YouTube content with other people in real time?
[00:22:06.417] Julia Hamilton Trost: You know, I think we're not going to go into detail on the roadmap, but I think we're all, between Daydream and YouTube teams, we're thinking about social and what that's going to look like for sure.
[00:22:14.805] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Thank you.
[00:22:16.887] Julia Hamilton Trost: Thank you so much.
[00:22:18.296] Kent Bye: So that was Jamie Byrne and Julia Hamilton Trost, both of YouTube and Daydream teams of Google. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, it'll be really interesting to see how YouTube evolves and changes in order to serve the needs of virtual reality. Right now, I think that if you compare and contrast differences between Facebook and Google, Facebook is also investing a lot of different money and energy into embedding virtual reality into Facebook. And I think it's going to mostly be around social experiences for Facebook, as well as for videos that you're sharing amongst your friends and your social graph. Whenever you show a video on Facebook, it ends up kind of immediately going out to all your social graph. Now, when you share something out to YouTube, Google hasn't have a really compelling social application yet. They've tried it with Google+, but on so many different times and efforts, Google really hasn't been able to crack that nut of the social interactions on the web. And so what that means is that they're kind of lagging behind in terms of social interactions in general. It'll be interesting to see how they potentially start to incorporate more social features within, let's say, YouTube or other applications. Right now when you publish something to YouTube it tends to be more of a public audience so that you can kind of reach anybody in the world. Whereas Facebook is really kind of optimized for sending things out immediately to your social graph and then it kind of disappears. The discoverability of content is really not all that great for Facebook. But for YouTube it's really designed for that level of discoverability and to be able to connect videos that are connected to each other. So at Sundance, YouTube started to show one of their first films that they produced in-house at the festival. It was called, This Is Everything, Gigi Gorgeous. So YouTube Red is YouTube's approach to try to have this subscription-based model where you pay $9.99 a month and you get access to specially produced content, as well as have an ad-free experience. I think up to this point, most of the people have been trained in order to get free content from YouTube. Because the content has been there and readily available. I don't think there's been necessarily a Convincing argument to be able to move from having ads into being able to go to an ad free experience So I think that's where when I look at Sundance where you start to see these big huge companies investing in content whether it's Facebook where they're doing a lot of immersive VR experiences within the Sundance new frontier where that's Amazon and Netflix who they're both buying up a lot of content at Sundance but also producing a lot of content and we're starting to see Google start to make that entry into content production as well. And so in these early phases, it sounds like what YouTube is doing is they're going to these established Creators who have an audience on youtube and they're giving them access to these 360 videos. And so I my question would be is whether or not these Existing personalities on youtube are really going to be producing the most compelling 360 content or if there's going to be new creators who are able to really find the unique affordances of vr and Like Jamie said, there's going to be a new video format that hasn't even been invented yet in a new genre. That's going to be another billion dollar industry of doing specific things with VR video on YouTube. One thing that I can already say is going to be amazing is doing guided tours through different places around the world. and really having a docent give you a tour about different places, locations, or pieces of art or history. That type of thing is something that virtual reality is very well uniquely able to do that goes way beyond what you're able to do in a 2D video. Now, the other thing that was new in this interview that I hadn't heard anybody else talk about before was that Google and YouTube is indeed looking at the potential and future of interactive and volumetric interactions on YouTube. What does that mean? I have no idea. But I think if you listen to what Jamie said, is that they're also very interested in looking at being able to take content from a game engine and to be able to export that and put it up on YouTube. So to me, that's leaning towards the possibility where you're going to see a lot more computer generated and synthetic virtual reality experiences, perhaps being able to be exported into a volumetric output and give you an experience on YouTube that maybe allow you to have a little bit more agency rather than just being able to just look around. Maybe you'll be able to actually locomote and not actually change anything that's happening in this prerecorded experience. But, you know, I think this is where things might be going in the long term, especially when Jamie says that one of the most compelling genres on YouTube is gaming. So it'll be interesting to see how this unfolds for Google, starting with YouTube. I think if you look at some of the other applications that Google has created so far, from acquiring Tilt Brush, as well as Soundstage recently, as well as the Google Earth, these are very high-end, amazing HTC Vive experiences. And the three DOF interactions within the Daydream, I don't think is as compelling as a Six Degree of Freedom embodied experience. Some of the biggest strengths I think of that Daydream controller is being able to do user interface and be able to actually navigate either through YouTube videos. And I think eventually once that the WebVR starts to really launch and penetrate out into the market, we're going to see a lot more WebVR experiences. So use a Daydream to be able to hop into a WebVR experience, for example. And it's going to be a lot easier and quicker than going home and being on your computer and setting up your whole entire VR-ready PC to jump into a WebVR experience. I think that actually WebVR, 360 videos on YouTube, Google Expeditions and education, as well as some of these higher-end experiences like Google Earth and other things to come in the future, I think is where I see where Google is really making some really interesting and innovative contributions to the overall VR ecosystem. So that's all that I have for today. I wanted to just thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends and become a donor. Just a few dollars a month makes a huge difference. So donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.