Publishing can be confusing for aspiring 360° video storytellers. The lack of public information on platform viewership makes it nearly impossible to know where you can best reach your intended viewers, or even how much time and effort to devote to the creation of VR content.

Numbers are hard to come by, but were more available in the beginning of 2016. At the time, most viewers encountered 360° video on Facebook. In February 2016, Facebook viewers had watched around 1 million hours of 360° video, as opposed to Youtube’s 350,000. For Facebook, this figure includes both mobile phone viewers, who can pan around the video by moving their phone around gyroscopically, and desktop viewers, who can only drag around by physically clicking and moving with a mouse.

Since then, the entire industry has changed. Last year was dubbed the “Year of VR,” with the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift headsets both launching in April, major bands like the Gorillaz pioneering 360° music videos, and advertisement campaigns for companies like Mountain Dew based entirely upon 360° video.

Facebook has thrown untold amounts of money at improving the capability of its VR platform, so one can assume the above numbers have grown exponentially larger. Facebook 360, a dedicated viewing app for Facebook videos, debuted in March of 2017. With this release comes the option for a viewer to watch VR content on the website in a headset for the first time.

YoutubeVR, the company’s official platform for VR content, has seen its subscriber count more than double in the past 12 months. The ability to watch VR video has been integrated with the Youtube app for mobile devices for months now.

We expect Instagram to make its next big splash by supporting 360° video in the next year or so.

Established journalism sites like Discovery or the New York Times have chosen to go an entirely different route, developing their own mobile platforms for viewing VR or publishing through VR-specific mobile and headset apps like Within. The growth of WebVR and its frameworks like A-Frame will allow any creator to build a platform for themselves.

However, independence in this conventionless market is risky. Without the necessary viewership data on current VR platforms, the safest choice for new publishers to get the most views is likely to go directly to Facebook or Youtube. The top-viewed VR videos of 2016 demonstrate a sizable audience of willing VR consumers, as the view counts on some videos top 10 million.

If you’re just trying to figure out how VR works, Wistia or Facebook are probably your best bet, as they provide heatmaps detailing where your viewers are focused throughout the course of your video.

There are apps zeroing in on the 360° space, too, such as Pie.

So, now that you have some platforms to go to, should you be planning on people watching on their phones, their computers, or in headsets? Again, the numbers are fishy.

Google Cardboard, the most available and affordable headset for watching VR, has a potential current viewing base of about five million. If a consumer were to test his or her feet in the 360° viewing waters with a headset, Google Cardboard is by far the most popular option. While the exact amount of money invested in top of the line immersive headsets like the Vive or the Rift may be difficult to nail down, the media push from their respective companies for these technologies certifies that the headset market will see significant improvement in the coming years.

That said, 77% of Americans own smartphones, and most of them spend several hours a day using them. If you’re wondering where most people will find your content, it’s through that omnipresent device in their pockets.

Export your video as an H.264 file with VR video enabled. In Premiere, this is done by simply checking a box. From there, upload it to your preferred platform—it’s by and large the same process as uploading regular video. Facebook and Youtube will auto-detect the 360° format. But be prepared for uploads to take longer.

The biggest thing to keep in mind? There’s lots of room for growth, here. Be patient, experiment and have fun.

Facebook, Vimeo, Youtube, and Wistia all have the web infrastructure to interpret your 360° video and display it correctly, so you can follow normal uploading procedures on those websites.

About the project

Storytelling Layers on 360 Video

In this project, students will film 360 video and explore the best ways to add on that additional layer; students will finish the quarter with two videos, and will document their findings to make their storytelling methods more accessible to others.

About the authors

Jake Daniels

Virtual Reality storyteller studying Radio/TV/Film, Computer Science, and Design in Northwestern University’s class of 2019.

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