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VR: Judging the real opportunity

People inside the virtual reality industry are very confident that the time for VR has arrived. But people just outside the industry still seem somewhat hesitant.

Speaking at an industry conference, Alissa Crevier — global head of brand partnerships at Littlstar, a premium distribution platform dedicated to showcasing VR and 360-degree content — said content creators, consumers, technology manufacturers and software developers have now reached a point where they are all set to embrace VR and immersive experiences in a meaningful way.

"We're at a perfect time in the technology where we're all kind of moving to this place where we're ready," Crevier said at NATPE Miami 2017, a conference and marketplace devoted to content and distribution.

"The technology is moving so fast, and I think it's just the exact time where you can see it all unfolding in front of you. This is definitely the next big thing to invest your time and money into," she said.

Brian Seth Hurst, chief storyteller and executive producer at StoryTech Immersive, agreed, though he acknowledged that producing VR content involves a lot of time and money, as well as a steep learning curve.

"This is not a cheap proposition," he said. "You have the novelty of VR and unfortunately a lot of people and creative executives have released what I call experiments instead of stuff that is really, really good."

He also believes that the time has come for the content to catch up with the technology.

"If you look at the amount of investment in technology, investment in content hasn't happened. But it's an industry that's sustained across multiple verticals: medicine, education, travel, engineering, architecture. So it's not going away and a lot of things will be solved in other verticals that will be brought back into entertainment," Hurst said in interview.

Asked about the timing of that investment in content, Hurst said it is just starting to happen.

"I've just been contacted by two different people about investors in China wanting to invest in content. They want to make their money in VR," he said.

Others at NATPE shared similar stories of beginning to dabble in VR and immersive content.

"We got our first request for virtual reality, which we're excited about. We're learning all about the different cameras and how you have to edit different[ly] in virtual reality … so that's exciting," Daniel Rosenberg, founding partner of the production company Piro Inc., said at the show.

He added that while it is still early days, "I think the idea that you can tell stories in different media is quite interesting."

Anthony Zuiker, creator of the CBS "CSI" franchise, shares Rosenberg's excitement for embracing technology to tell new stories. But he said he is taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to VR.

Zuiker said that he still has a number of questions and concerns about the technology, such as how long a viewer can comfortably wear a headset and whether different camera motions can make a viewer sick.

"I'm not going to jump into the VR market until I have an idea that's palatable enough and understandable enough so that when I put my efforts toward it, I feel like I'm able to accomplish something at a high execution level rather than just jumping on the new flavor of the week," he said in an interview.

Asked what it would take to pique his interest in developing VR content, Zuiker said he would like to see more content from other creators before pushing forward with his own.

"You see people before you and what they've done. And you say to yourself does this VR speak to me? And if it spoke to me, what story would I tell and what would be the best way to leverage the technology?" Zuiker said, noting that while he has some "loose ideas in his head," he has no plans to pursue them in the next year.

"Maybe next year," Zuiker said.

In the meantime, Hurst said he is moving forward on a number of projects. He worked with Showtime on a 360-degree companion piece for "The Circus" and most recently produced the cinematic VR narrative "My Brother's Keeper" for PBS.

"I think people that are right on the outside are trying to figure it out right now," he said, noting that even those who are watching and waiting on VR are still paying attention.