VR: What’s the Reality?

VR: What’s the Reality?

By Tim Fiennes (BBC) Katherine Jameson Armstrong (Ipsos Connect)


Virtual Reality (VR) presents an exciting new medium for storytellers like the BBC to work in today. It has the potential to disrupt audiences’ experience of content, to create great impact and - for the BBC – the potential to transform how we can deliver public service value.

However, enthusiasm for the technology across the industry has left audiences behind.

This programme of research sought to put the voice of the audience back into the heart of the BBC’s (and wider industry’s) approach to VR, to ensure future organisational, creative, distribution and marketing strategy in VR works for the UK licence fee payer.


What we did

With Ipsos Connect, the BBC undertook a research programme into VR encompassing market sizing, a synthesis of existing media needs research and a longitudinal ethnographic study. We recruited 8 teens and 8 adults from across the UK who were interested in VR but had little experience with it. We gave them each a Samsung Gear headset for three months.

For the first few weeks we asked participants to play with the hardware every day, discovering VR experiences themselves, and trying pieces we suggested to test specific elements. For the following 12 weeks, we left the hardware with participants to observe how VR would fit into their daily lives in the longer-term.

Participants joined an online community to talk about their experiences. We visited them in their homes in the first two weeks, and interviewed them at weeks 8 and 14, part way through and at the end of the study.

As a result of this research, 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.

Impact of the research

The impact of the study has already seen significant benefits for the BBC’s audiences.

The BBC has been successful in creating an audience-centred approach to VR – something we believe to be unique in the sector. As the BBC’s Head of Commissioning for VR Zillah Watson said, “This work has been ground-breaking. It has provided a rigorous view of what works for audiences, and has enhanced the BBC’s credibility to help the wider industry focus on the audiences’ interests. Its recommendations have been crucial to establishing new BBC teams to shape the future of VR.”

Its findings influenced the case for the creation of two specialist teams (now up and running) to focus the BBC’s VR efforts on experimenting with high-impact content, and engaging with the industry to ensure it is shaped with the audience’s interest in mind.

The value of the work is such that the business wishes to continue funding research over the next year to explore what works for audiences, to help the nascent industry create great VR content.