Taylor Swift might give the VR industry the boost it needs

You know, Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour is causing quite a stir. Fans are going all out, dropping thousands on tickets, and the cinematic release? Well, it’s smashing box office records. Now, here’s the twist – some tech geeks in the virtual reality (VR) world are hoping it’ll do more than just entertain. They’re crossing their fingers that Swift’s fans, the “Swifties,” will jump on the VR bandwagon.

Taylor Swift.
Taylor Swift.

So, this tour isn’t just hitting stadiums and cinemas worldwide; it’s also streaming on Amazon’s Prime Video app. And get this – fans figured out they could watch it in their own virtual theaters using Prime Video’s VR app on a Meta Quest. How cool is that?

Now, check TikTok – Swifties are belting out tunes with headsets on, and those videos are blowing up. Industry insiders are buzzing, thinking that the mind-blowing experience of the highest-grossing tour in music history might just be the push VR needs for mass adoption.

But let’s be real, VR has had its struggles. Remember those clunky headsets in arcades back in the ’90s? Yeah, that didn’t quite take off. A Deloitte survey in 2022 showed only about 12% of Americans and 8% of Brits had a VR headset. Will Swifties be the game-changer VR has been waiting for? Time will tell.

The Meta Quest 3, revealed at CES 2024, will be out in September at $499 (£391) – a budget-friendly option compared to earlier tech.
The Meta Quest 3, revealed at CES 2024, will be out in September at $499 (£391) – a budget-friendly option compared to earlier tech.

Technological constraints have played a role in the sluggish adoption of virtual reality (VR), but the steep costs have been a significant hurdle as well. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Oculus Rift, acquired by Facebook, emerged as the first commercially viable VR product, hitting the market with a $600 (£470) price tag. While prices have gradually decreased, the recently unveiled Meta Quest 3, showcased at the 2024 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and set for release in September, will be priced at $499 (£391). Meanwhile, its predecessor, the Meta Quest 2, will see a price drop to $299 (£234) in June. (It’s worth noting that some VR headsets, like Apple’s Vision Pro, launching in February, remain quite expensive, starting at $3,499 (£2,741).)

Typically, attending a concert costs only a fraction of what a new piece of hardware might. However, the Eras Tour has turned that equation on its head. With resale tickets averaging more than $3,800 (£2,977) each, insiders in the VR industry believe that Taylor Swift’s unparalleled popularity might just be the solution to overcoming both content and cost barriers.

Taylor Swift is like the ultimate game-changer for virtual reality. It sent a clear message to me and solidified the idea that having a powerhouse like her in your corner is crucial to pull people into a whole new realm of devices.

Tom Emrich

Now that VR headsets are both functional and affordable, many experts in the field believe that the missing key ingredient is a piece of software or content so popular that it motivates the average person to invest in a new hardware device.

According to Tom Emrich, a VR expert and unabashed Swiftie, “Taylor Swift is a killer app for virtual reality.” He was thrilled to witness the convergence of his two passions on social media during the holidays. “It was a big signal to me, and really reaffirmed that powerful intellectual property (IP) is a necessary ingredient to attract people to a brand-new device category.”

Emrich, aged 45 and serving as the director of product and augmented reality platforms for San Francisco-based Niantic Labs (the creators of Pokémon Go), points out that The Eras Tour Concert Film was shot in 2D, not with VR cameras. Instead of immersing fans in a concert experience that replicates a front-row seat, he describes the experience as more akin to being inside a movie theater, with the Eras Tour film playing on the screen.

“That’s just the basic level experience you can get in virtual reality,” he explains. In simple terms, this implies that content will only improve as events are captured using 3D filming technology – like a 2023 Megan Thee Stallion concert experience or an upcoming Doja Cat event. These are designed to give fans the sensation of standing on stage next to their favorite artist.

Taylor Swift fans are getting up close with their favorite superstar in The Eras Tour through VR.
Taylor Swift fans are getting up close with their favorite superstar in The Eras Tour through VR.

“I’m genuinely thrilled about the prospect of Swifties eventually getting to enjoy tailor-made VR experiences of Taylor Swift concerts,” expresses Emrich. While he acknowledges that no such project has been officially confirmed, he remains optimistic, especially considering the enthusiastic response fans had to watching the 2D version in VR.

The industry has previously attempted to ignite widespread adoption through entertainment. Recent years saw attempts with live sporting events in VR, generating similar excitement but minimal uptake. In March 2023, ESPN shared a TikTok video featuring a fan enjoying a courtside view of a live NBA game from their living room. Despite garnering over four million views and 330,000 likes on TikTok alone, it failed to trigger mass adoption among sports enthusiasts.

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Contrary to this, Illinberger contends that concerts are better suited to the VR medium. Unlike live sporting events, concerts can be edited and enhanced with CGI after filming, elevating the viewer experience. Additionally, he points out that sporting events often have breaks, during which fans engage in other activities that are less convenient with a headset on, such as chatting, using devices, eating, drinking, or using the toilet.

“For concerts like Taylor Swift… it all comes down to immersion,” he asserts. A Taylor Swift fan desires a complete concert experience, and that’s exactly what VR can provide.

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  • AYAN ZEESHAN

    An accomplished journalist boasting a decade of expertise, Ayan Zeeshan excels in the meticulous exploration, thorough research, and compelling presentation of news. Renowned for his perceptive analyses and unwavering dedication to journalistic ethics, he has made significant contributions to several esteemed publications. Going beyond the confines of traditional journalism, Ayan Zeeshan is a fervent advocate for staying well-informed and actively involving global audiences, viewing his role not just as a profession but also as a personal mission.

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