For two years, the BBC VR Hub was producing VR content to test out the potential for immersive technologies to help fulfill the BBC’s mission to inform, educate, and entertain the public. The BBC was able to produce at least 10 projects with half of them debuting at major festivals including 1943 Berlin Blitz and Make Noise at Venice 2018, Nothing to Be Written at SXSW 2019, Dr Who: The Runaway at Tribeca 2019, and Doctor Who: The Edge Of Time at Venice 2019. The BBC recently summarized their lessons learned & production tips within a 64-page pamphlet titled “Making VR a Reality: Storytelling & Audience Insights 2019 (PDF).”

Zillah Watson was the Commissioning Editor for Virtual Reality for the BBC VR Hub, and I’ve seen her a lot on the festival circuit this past year with new projects at each of them. I had a chance to catch up with her at the IDFA DocLab where we talked about what makes a great VR story including: “the experience heightens presence, there is an emotional charge, the story is spatial, the viewer is more than a spectator, there’s a taste of the impossible, it invites meaningful interactions, go beyond the visual.”

Watson also talked about how the BBC collaborated with 160 different libraries around the UK by setting them up with VR equipment, and showing a number of their pieces of premium immersive storytelling content that they produced over that past couple of years. They recently published a blog post containing some of the survey results from over 1200 people, and they found “96% told us they found the experience enjoyable; 92% wanted to try more VR and also said they would talk about their experience to other people; 70% were inspired to learn more about the subject they’d seen.”

It wasn’t the technology that was drawing them in, but rather the storytelling content that made them feel compelled to share their experiences with others. They also found that showing VR at libraries had shifted their perspective of what libraries could be. They started to regard them “more as community hubs rather than quiet places for study, a place for trialing new tech, and generally future thinking rather than old fashioned.”

The consumer market for VR is still ramping up, and so the BBC VR Hub is taking a pause from operating at full capacity. But Watson said that the BBC is going to continue to experiment with creating immersive content in co-production with ARTE and Atlas V, and hopefully they’ll continue to provide new premium VR content to the libraries around the UK as a form of adhoc LBE distribution. Based upon what we’ve seen from the BBC over the last couple of years, then I’m sure that we’ll be seeing them again as the distribution channels continue and market adoption of VR headsets continues to grow. But in the meantime, be sure to check out their very useful “Making VR a Reality: Storytelling & Audience Insights 2019 (PDF)” pamphlet that summarized their lessons learned over the past couple of years.


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Music: Fatality

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