What a summer of sport it has already been: Andy Murray rampant on the lush green lawns of SW19, Wales lighting up Euro 2016 with the kind of swashbuckling unity that England dream of and Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola arriving in Manchester.
For the first time in a long time, I have watched on not from the press box, but as a fan, enjoying the pantomime from the stalls, not the stage. As a journalist, my job was to find or witness the great sporting stories and then tell as many people as possible.
And even though I have left the BBC and journalism behind, that is still the case. In my new role, as CEO of Laduma, there is unlikely to be any jousting with Jose, but the desire and need to tell incredible stories in spectacular new ways, endures.
Virtual Reality is, quite simply, the future – the next chapter. In my lifetime, the first one was the bedtime stories my Dad would tell me, never reading from a book, always dreaming up a new adventure from his imagination. And although my career has been varied – film business, the media – the common thread has been telling great stories. So VR is an obvious next step on that path.
Laduma is a company that helps the biggest names in sport and entertainment tell their stories in the most compelling way possible – in 360 but also in 3D. Yesterday, Wimbledon released a 360-degree film we created for them, while another of our teams was in LA, shooting behind the scenes on game-day with Steven Gerrard and the LA Galaxy. Watch this space.
Unfortunately, talking about VR is like telling you what it feels like to look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. You can’t even get close. You have to feel present inside the worlds we have created and feel what it is like to sit right next to one of your sporting heroes, to get a sense of what I am talking about. When it comes to VR, we believe seeing really is believing.
What I will do is tell you a bit about how we do things at Laduma and where, we think, the VR market place goes from here.
We are working with some of the biggest sports brands out there. All of them now have VR very much front-and-centre in their thoughts, and that is something that has changed rapidly over the past six months. We have gone from going into meetings and being asked “So what is Virtual Reality?”. To walking in and being asked “We know we really need this, what is the best way to use it?” There is no question, that US brands are ahead of the game with VR. One major US sports franchise is very keen to use our techniques to improve their performance of their players. Another wants to give away almost 20,000 free branded cardboard headset to fans. Some see the potential of VR to help them engage with supporters all around the world, pick them up from wherever they are and make them feel more a part of the team they support from a distance.
In South Africa, we are talking to major sporting institutions about how they get ahead of the wave and benefit from the huge growth in popularity of Samsung smart phones and the free headsets the public are being given as part of the deal. And in Europe, sporting royalty are consulting with us on how to create compelling sponsored content for new and existing brands.
And that is just to scratch the surface.
So how do we do it? Well, our bespoke and unique 3D camera system shoots in every direction, to create a sphere of the world. But by showing the world as it really is, virtual reality does something that 2D simply cannot. And I’m not sure I can absolutely explain it.
When it is done properly, when you get up close, when you take people to the centre of the action, you can connect people in a genuinely profound way. It is not something I have experienced in any other medium I have worked in, even the movies, which of course have the power to make you laugh and make you cry. But they don’t connect you with people in the way that VR does. Yes, they can make you feel like you have left your life for a moment, but they can’t make you feel like you have got up out of your seat, leapt through the cinema screen and into the world you are watching.
By taking that leap, you see the world differently. You understand people in a different way, you lose your prejudices and you begin to understand your new world in a much more empathetic way, because you are part of it. There is no screen between you anymore. Once you get your head around that, you begin to see how powerful this medium could be.
The speed at which the industry is moving is incredible and the demand for content is growing – we are feeling it as a business.
Over the next 12 months, headsets will become more visible. Seeing someone on a bus or a train watching content will become the norm. And as that momentum builds, so will the demand for content. Fans will expect it. Ask where it is. Want it. Need it. If they don’t find virtual reality content with your brand, they will find it elsewhere. Because once you get the taste for it, you want to revisit that world again and again. You want to feel that childlike excitement at the discovery of a new way to tell wonderful stories. Just like I once did with my Dad’s bedtime stories.
So there it is, we are Laduma. We are a New Reality. The thunder is coming.