Sky, which owns Sky News, is getting well and truly stuck into VR with the launch of a dedicated app.

It is an important moment for virtual reality, which now appears to have three paths to mainstream adoption: in gaming, with the imminent launch of Sony’s PS4 compatible headset; in social, with Facebook, which owns VR-developer Oculus, pushing 360 videos and, eventually, headsets on its 1.7 billion users; and now in content, with Sky’s app.

The app is free, compatible with Android, iPhone and Oculus, and starts with 22 VR films; this will be 30 by the end of the month, with more on the way. 

Most interestingly, Sky’s arrival fills a middle ground that has been unoccupied. At one end, there have been some extremely interesting VR films, mainly by independent companies; or efforts like the excellent New York Times VR app.

At the other, you have the technology giants investing huge amounts of money in hardware. (Sky is partnering with Google and Facebook for the app.)

But none of these have introduced VR to a mass audience. 

Sports and movies are an obvious way in, even if these feel a bit more like technology demonstrations than an entirely new way of watching. But it is clear this will come. 

Gary Davey, Sky’s head of content, described some things in the pipeline: Sky Italia will strap a VR rig to the back of a Moto GP superbike, and stream a race. 

In drama, mini narratives related to gangster series Gomorrah will be shot entirely in VR. Here, one plan is to film a battle scene from the upcoming series Britannia in VR. 

Sky News has also experimented with VR filming.

That sort of range is important.

There are other apps, but they’re nowhere near as big as what we’re doing and they’re nowhere near as broad as what we’re doing, so we’re unique in that sense, Davey says. 

The question I’ve struggled for a while with is whether VR will become mainstream, or whether strapping a screen to your face will remain fundamentally not a normal thing to do.

It is easy to think of other innovations – 3D television, second screening – which got the hype, but were quietly forgotten.`

VR will be bigger than either of those, especially as VR technologies and storytelling continue to improve.

But all of a sudden, after years of talk, VR faces the mass market for the first time. It will be its most important test.


(c) Sky News 2016