The Future of Virtual Reality—“History Doesn’t Repeat Itself But It Often Rhymes.”

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Introducing virtual realitya technology that would be harvested to create a new way of interacting with media that seemed to be only a couple of years ago right out of a science fiction movie. Despite being quite young in its career in regards to the media industry, the virtual reality field has spawned many independent companies, creating their own headsets and gaming software, with big companies keeping a hungry eye on this product. With seeing this relatively new technology having such a start, its safe to wonder: what’s the future of this product? Many imagine that our future daily lives will be fully integrated with VR, and that we may even get to the point of depending on it. If that’s so, who will be controlling this technology? Will small companies survive in making their own VR headsets and games that would be popular enough to engage a sizable audience?  

 

In order to answer these questions, we should look to the past to see how similar media situations unfolded. Let’s go back to 1980 and meet a man named Ted Turner. Name sound familiar? That’s probably because this man is responsible for creating the Turner Broadcasting System, which is now home to worldwide programming such as CNN, Cartoon Network, TruTV, TNT, HLN and Adult Swim, to name a few. What’s so notable about him, was that he was “…one of the first in the industry to bring film, broadcast, and cable properties together under common ownership” (Holt 1) As time progressed, companies began to combine and consolidate, combine and consolidate, with the result currently being, “ …six conglomerates now dominat[ing] the global media marketplace, sharing the common traits of convergence, consolidation, and a major international presence along with the apparent drive to ‘control everything,’” (Holt 1)

 

If you’re waiting for my point I’m about to make it: just like media products before it, VR will soon be vertically and horizontally integrated, owned by a select few conglomerates that will have all the patents and rights in the world towards the VR product. We could see a glimpse of this imminent future for VR with the purchase of the Oculus Rift by Facebook back in 2014. When asked why the company made such a purchase, CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated, “‘Immersive virtual and augmented reality will become a part of people’s everyday life,’ Zuckerberg said. ‘History suggests there will be more platforms to come, and whoever builds and defines these,’ he said, will shape the future and reap the benefits.’” (Simon Parkin, technologyreview.com)  Not only does Zuckerburg want to capitalize on the gaming aspect of VR, he also wants to capitalize on other areas that the product might open up in the future—areas that can potentially come under his control as well.

 

Innovative companies like Facebook and many others want to “win.” Winning to them is being able to control as much as possible, until the government says, “No more!” Until then, as more purchases of the VR product and rights are made, small companies that also make this product and its compatible software will either fizzle out, or come under the control of a media giant, which could then be swallowed by an even bigger giant. If you don’t believe history repeats itself, that VR won’t have the same outcome as did film, broadcast and cable, I’ll just quote what Mark Twain was known for supposedly saying,  “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”


Works Cited

Holt, Jennifer. Empires of Entertainment: Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation, 1980-1996. Rutgers University Press, 2011.

Parkin, Simon. “Why Facebook Bought Oculus Rift for $2 Billion.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 19 Sept. 2014, http://www.technologyreview.com/s/525881/what-zuckerberg-sees-in-oculus-rift/.

 

 

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