Virtual Reality (VR): What's the Reality?

Working in partnership with the BBC we conducted an ethnographic exploration into the challenges and opportunities of VR with UK audiences.

The author(s)
  • Katherine Jameson-Armstrong Media Development
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Virtual Reality (VR) is certainly having a moment, with predictions of millions of headsets and billions of dollars of entertainment revenue. But, if we ask ourselves what do audiences really want from VR? Do we really have any idea? In collaboration with Tim Fiennes at the BBC, we wanted to get under the skin of the VR experience to understand the content that resonates with audiences, and how VR integrates into media routines.

Audiences tend to associate VR with novelty experiences and the technology itself, however, when exposed to more engaging content our participants were blown away by it. From an industry perspective, we are still in the learning phase around producing content that works, but we were able to pull out a few content fundamentals that explain why participants got excited about certain content, as well as some key opportunities and challenges for VR uptake.

Key Opportunities:

Core opportunities exist around good quality content that taps into real audience needs.

  • Audiences engaged most with content that was focused around: escaping, relaxing, empathy, and learning.
  • Programming that viewers felt invested in, rather than programmes that inspired casual viewing, proved to be the best motivator in overcoming usage barriers.
  • Far more work needs to be done to educate audiences about the experiences they could have, as audiences tend to associate VR with novelty experiences. We need to avoid talking about the VR technology, but instead emphasise the unique, relevant experiences people want to have.

Key Challenges:

  • There are some challenges that need to be addressed for VR to realise its potential.

  • The user experience needs to be more intuitive and seamless.
  • The good content is far too difficult to find for most, inhibiting the integration of VR into daily media routines. Audiences need to be able to find content that meets their needs quicker and easier to move VR out of the novelty zone.
  • Audiences also need to be exposed to content they might not automatically choose, to expand their range of tastes in VR. There is room for intelligent content curation from trusted brands which takes into account the audience needs, and with the goal of expanding VR beyond novelty experiences for audiences.
  • Audiences need to know what to expect from certain content destinations, and this will help content attribution for brands.


We recruited 8 teens and 8 adults who were interested in VR, but had little experience with it. We gave them each a mobile VR headset for two weeks. They joined an online community to talk about their experiences and we concurrently visited 6 of them in their homes in the first week and then re-visited them in the second week to compare.

By taking a people first approach, we uncovered both drivers and barriers of VR in-home entertainment usage and appeal.

The author(s)
  • Katherine Jameson-Armstrong Media Development

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