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PRS Explores: Immersive Technology

Throughout 2017 there was a growing interest and debate around the potential for ‘immersive technologies’, such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) to transform how we interact with digital information. These new technologies are not widespread yet, however the demand for them is expected to grow significantly in the next few years.

What is VR, AR and MR?

VR simulates a user’s physical presence in a virtual environment by wearing head mounted goggles with a screen over the eyes.

AR overlays digital information onto a view of the real world by wearing special glasses or looking at a mobile phone screen. Pokemon Go is one of the most widely used AR applications.

MR blends VR and AR and is intended to provide the user with more of a perception of movement and depth.

Bringing it back to music

Whilst the current user base of hardware is low, the adoption of VR technology is forecast to exhibit significant growth in the next three years, with smartphone compatible VR devices driving consumer engagement.

There is currently significant and high-profile investment in the technology, however, there is a lack of consumer-focused applications for immersive technologies, and it is unclear how music rightsholders will be able to control use of their works in an environment which could create new, and potentially significantly different, consumption models.

With this in mind, we invited a panel of immersive technology pioneers and music industry rights and licensing experts to explore how these rapidly developing new technologies could impact upon the music industry.

Our panel, left-right above: Nick Edwards (PRS for Music), Chris Helm (Blend Media), Ben Green (BGA Rights Consultancy), Stuart Dredge (Music Ally), Chaggall (Artist, Songwriter, Producer), Nicholas Minter-Green (Parable VR), Will Saunders (Consultant & Exec Producer, ex BBC & DCMA)

Our panel, left-right above: Nick Edwards (PRS for Music), Chris Helm (Blend Media), Ben Green (BGA Rights Consultancy), Stuart Dredge (Music Ally), Chaggall (Artist, Songwriter, Producer), Nicholas Minter-Green (Parable VR), Will Saunders (Consultant & Exec Producer, ex BBC & DCMA).

Out with the old...

“The key is to move beyond replicating old experiences in virtual reality” – Chris Helm (Blend Media)

Our panel discussed the lack of consumer-focused applications for the technology and agreed that the challenge is to avoid simply presenting ‘old things in new ways’. While 360-degree concert recordings in VR are one of the few commercial applications available, our panel concluded that we need to find more inspirational experiences that do full justice to the potential offered by this medium – the key to this being interactive rather than passive observational experiences.

Are we listening?

“Our attention span is so short these days, so what I’m hoping is that audiences will want to experience music from start to finish and pay attention to it” – Chaggall (Artist, songwriter, producer)

VR is a truly immersive experience, one that artist and songwriter Chaggall hopes will have an impact on how we choose to consume music. Chaggall highlights a decline in the level of time and attention we devote to the consumption of music and suggests that VR provides an experience that allows us to “really listen”, which could ultimately bring about a wider change in how we listen, and what we choose to listen to.

Where is immersive technology heading?

“There is no question of whether it will take off – it is already 'off'” – Nicholas Minter Green (Parable VR)

Our panel observed that the emergence of immersive technologies represents an evolution of the digital experience – it is a way to develop the currently ‘flat’ interactions with digital information, into experiences that have depth.

Gaming and immersive technologies such as VR already go hand-in-hand, but it is unclear whether this will spread to other industries outside of video games. The technology industry seems to be championing immersive technologies, but focusing on business and enterprise instead of the world of entertainment. Google and Microsoft are both developing content across industries such as engineering, construction and healthcare.

The wide availability and affordability of VR hardware, particularly for smartphones, is expected to drive demand for music-based VR content. Music-based VR applications therefore have the potential to add value to the existing live and digital music economy by providing new ways in which to experience music.

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