Nine looks to steal early lead in virtual reality content after State of Origin trials

The Nine Network is the first Australian broadcaster to make a concerted push into the world of virtual reality, revealing it plans to roll out experiences using the technology in the second half of this year.

Nine is trialling VR technology with the NRL.

Nine is trialling VR technology with the NRL

At a gathering to launch the rebranded website, which will replace legacy digital brand Ninemsn, sales boss Michael Stephenson revealed the broadcaster had trialled VR technology at Wednesday night’s State of Origin Game II.

“We can say today that we will be the first media business in Australia to create unbelievable VR experiences for mass audiences and for brands,” he declared.

“The best bit of this is that it is not coming but it has already happened,” he revealed. “At (Wednesday’s) State of Origin II we trialled the NRL’s first immersive VR experience. It is set to bring audiences closer to the game and allow consumers to relive every single moment – every single try, in full virtual reality.

“Imagine running alongside Jonathan Thurston as he is about to score the winning try or imagine standing in the middle of The Voice stage as our contestants are waiting to see if they will make it through to the next stage of the competition.”

Stephenson: VR is a key frontier.

Stephenson: VR is “a key frontier”

The TV Network noted that at this stage there is no official launch date, but said opportunities are being explored for a launch in back half of 2016 across a number of content TV/digital verticals, including sport, entertainment and lifestyle. It has not said which devices it will be available on.

Nine believes its early investment in key franchises such as the NRL would help drive penetration of the new technology into the Australian consumer market.

“The opportunities are endless and we believe VR represents the next stage of storytelling, and we are storytellers,” said Stephenson. “We are going to play a massive role in sparking consumer inspiration in this new medium.”

Speaking with Mumbrella after the event, Stephenson said the investment in VR was important to demonstrate the weight that digital and video has in Nine’s future.

“By us leading the charge it creates a perception and a reality around how we are thinking about the future of our business,” he said. “We have got to bring new ad products to market and virtual reality is at the forefront of that.

“The opportunities are endless for consumers in the first instance, and then for advertisers to be able to be a part of the storytelling. It is one of the most exciting things that has happened in the last few years.”

Speaking at the event CEO Hugh Marks admitted it was redoubling its content efforts for the start of 2017 as it looks to knock rivals Seven off the top spot.

The network got off to a terrible start to the year with Australia’s Got Talent and Renovation Rumble both flopping against Seven’s reality juggernaut My Kitchen Rules, and being replaced with Married at First Sight.

Marks: Nine will do better in the first quarter of 2017.

Marks: Nine will do better in the first quarter of 2017.

“TV is our biggest front of house (product), and coming into the second half of this year and next year, we are very committed to launching a very effective programming schedule that competes better at the top of the year with My Kitchen Rules than we did this year,” he said.

Sales director Stephenson also used the presentation to take aim at online behemoths Google and Facebook, noting how 9Now has more than 1.4m logged-in users.

“Video is a massive part of our DNA,” said Stephenson. “We create and deliver long and short-form video for consumers and brands across mobile, desktop, tablet, via streaming services, etc.

“What I love about our video is that it is produced by professionals with user initiated ad models. There is no ad-skip functionality and it is in brand safe, quality environments,” he said referencing the Trueview function on Youtube.

Stephenson also took aim at Facebook’s decision to charge advertisers after three seconds, telling the room: “(Our video) is deep immersive. They have chosen to view this content it didn’t simply show up in their news feed for a millisecond or more.

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” he added.


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