• Rohan Mukherjee

Netflix vs Virtual Reality: Is the content more exciting than its medium?

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

Is Virtual Reality being outdone by the content of today?

Narcos or just Google Glass Who has potential to reach the mass?

Hold up, there’s a virtual war going on?

Well, standing today, it doesn’t really seem like a fair battle. On one hand, you have Netflix—the cornerstone of any millennial weekend (and the self proclaimed competitor of sleep), and on the other you have Virtual Reality—those bulky goggles that VR not sure if we need. But as it turns out, this fight is legit, and it’s happening right now.

Cool, tell me more!

So, ’Netflix and Chill’ is a phrase that simply means, watch movies/tv shows and well, chill. But does it stop at meaning just that? No, it doesn’t. This is how Wikipedia describes it, ‘Netflix and chill is an internet slang term used either as an invitation to watch Netflix together or as a euphemism for some form of sex, either as part of a romantic partnership or as a "booty call".' Do you see now how popular Netflix is? Approximately 117.58 million people stream content on Netflix every day. From TV shows to films, documentaries, and other original content, it is the go-to site for everyone who loves to watch fiction/non-fiction content, and/or is going through a breakup (or being a sunday slouch). Netflix is perhaps, one of the few companies that have adapted to change in its true sense. Originally a DVD rental and sale service, Netflix gradually opened up to the changing landscape of the internet and media, and in 2013, launched its online distribution that we all have sex to, er, now use.

But you mentioned Virtual Reality?

Well, Virtual Reality, on the contrary, is a technology. It simulates reality via computer graphics, or atleast the peripheral vision associated with reality. But this too, had its own humble beginnings. The first kind of multimedia device was in the form of an interactive theatre experience, devised by Morton Heilig, was known as the ‘Sensorama’. This early form of virtual reality was invented in 1957 but was not patented until 1962. Essentially comprising of:

  • A viewing screen within an enclosed booth which displayed stereoscopic images.

  • Oscillating fans

  • Audio output (speakers)

  • Devices which emitted smells

The viewer would be asked to sit on a rotating chair that enabled them to face the screen. Then they would be shown stereoscopic images which gave off an illusion of depth along with the ability to view something from different angles. That must’ve been a joy ride.

As of now, the market is rapid innovating on various VR headsets to take home entertainment and communication to a whole new level. Major brands like Google, Oculus, Samsung, PlayStation etc are already huge players in this field by constantly upgrading and innovating the tech to make it more personal, and less uncomfortable. And as a medium of technology that has various applications in gaming, healthcare, space exploration, museums and archival experiences, defence, entertainment and in automotive manufacturing, it is safe to say that as of now, the technology is at its primitive stage.

And that’s where the problem begins.

What Netflix, or any other content platform for that matter does is, they bring the stories created by people to you. It is merely a platform for content. Whereas VR is a new medium altogether created to consume content in a new way. The essential difference between a picture, play, and a film is that each of these has a progression towards the freedom of what the user sees. A story is always told by a storyteller to an audience. With Virtual Reality, we’re inviting the audience into the story and letting them view it as they seem fit. There’s this thin veil of awareness that is present between the play/film and the audience at first. As the story progresses, the audience forgets that they’re sitting in a theatre or a cinema hall, and is completely engrossed in the story. That is the beauty of a play or a film! VR abolishes this layer completely. And that is where it fails to be the right medium for films.

So, what more can we expect in VR?

It’s too early to say what the future holds for VR. But we know for a fact that the industry (VR & AR) is expected to reach $1.8 billion in 2018. Amidst this, Netflix has taken a sort of wait and see approach to VR. They think (and they may be right) that VR is more intended for gaming rather than watching content. Whereas Hulu (Netflix’s rival) is totally going for the VR run and producing full-length shows—The Driver, and A Curious Mind, for the new technology. As with most new industries, this one is getting good numbers as well. In 2018, there will be more than 170 million active VR users in the world, using about 190 different VR headsets available in the market. Although Oculus seems to be emerging as a clear market leader in the current scenarios with its beautiful and powerful product range.

So what about Netflix?

You don’t have to worry about Netflix. With such popularity and strong roots in popular culture, Netflix is here to stay. And that too, for long. Their database includes some of the best dramas and non-fiction shows of our time. And even if VR takes over Netflix (highly unlikely), it would only be mutually beneficial to each technology bearing in mind what iTunes did for (or to) the music industry. Platform and content are yin-yang.



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