News — 16 December 2016
The Daydream App

Netflix is rocketing into the future. By marketing the Daydream App, it propels itself high above its original business world of renting DVDs. Young people can’t possibly remember Blockbuster Video, which rented movies from an actual store in your local shopping center. Netflix put Blockbuster out of business by renting videos from a virtual store in cyberspace. Once consumers got into the rhythm of waiting for movies to arrive in the mail, they gave up on the reality of driving to a physical location. Netflix continues to evolve, because not only is the Daydream App available on a smart phone, but they are also preparing to allow downloads. (No more streaming.)

Not everybody knows what Virtual Reality is. Google markets a cardboard box that you wear on your head, and when you hook it up to your smartphone, you are standing on top of a skyscraper, with the virtual experience that if you take a wrong step, you will either fly or die.

Now imagine watching movies in which you are in the middle of the action, with the option of choosing your point of view. A-list directors like Steven Spielberg are already preparing new films for the VR market. Netflix, which receives intense competition from Amazon Prime, has resisted moving beyond its present business model for some years now. But no longer, because the Daydream App will change the viewing experience for 86 million members worldwide, including 47 million in America alone.

The Offline Experience

Not everyone speaks Geek, especially if you’re over fifty. Offline support simply means that you can download content into your computer and then watch it at your convenience without logging on to the internet. The download experience is more stable than streaming, especially in the global market, where internet connectivity may be more unstable.

Netflix plans to offer this offline support without raising its fees, which should encourage new customers to enroll. Also, considering the competition from Amazon Prime, this strategy has been designed to help them hold on to present customers. Netflix is not reinventing the printing press: its offline version is much like Amazon’s. You choose the content to download, and there’s a time limit for how long you keep it. Amazon has original series of its own, but there is only one House of Cards, and that can be seen only on Netflix.

Another major factor in the Offline Experience at Netflix is to attract new investment. The VR phenomenon is young. Millennials missed 8 track tapes and beta videotape players, which means that even the brightest business wonks cannot always predict the future of gimmicks. But here is what makes VR so compelling: in a field which unapologetically creates new business by fueling a film-watching addiction, the overwhelming sensory experience of VR will probably create an even deeper level of dependency. Consider the Bruce Willis movie, Surrogates. People never left their homes but experienced all of life through a system of virtual reality. They lived through computer generated avatars. Don’t look now, but the avatars are drawing closer, ever closer.

Challenges Of VR Movies

The virtual experience is something like the sensation of being a guest at the Westworld amusement park, a $40,000 per day immersion in the wild west. Of course, Westworld is an HBO fiction, but it’s easy to imagine future Westworld seasons being filmed in virtual reality. Imagine: instead of watching the guest engage in a gunfight against impossible odds with horrible enemies, the viewer chooses the point of view from which he EXPERIENCES the gunfight. He can be a bad guy watching the good guy shoot him down. Or he can be the barmaid watching from her hiding place.

Obviously, virtual reality movies require filming and editing at an unimaginable level of complexity. It is traditional for a director to cover a scene with multiple cameras to allow for a shifting point of view. But the old system then demands that the director choose which pieces of film are used in the final cut. No longer. Now, the viewer -who can sit, stand, walk, or jump up and down- chooses the point of view by her movements. This system is both empowering and compelling.

Anyone who has visited Epcot, part of Walt Disney World in Orlando, probably attended the Rick Moranis comedy, Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. This is a virtual reality flick in which the audience is subjected to bursts of air that mimic mice, and the actual experience of the auditorium moving up and down. The Daydream App can only rock your world when you yourself move around the room.

When you watch a VR movie with new technology in a cinema, you simply wear a headset and stay in your chair. Turn your head, and you see what’s happening behind you. That is how you choose. Obviously, when you can physically react in your own living room, the virtual experience will take both terror and passion to a whole new level.

Google’s Daydream VR Platform

“Daydream takes you on incredible adventures in virtual reality. Get ready to immerse yourself in all the things you love.” That’s the ad copy from Google describing the Daydream VR Platform. The headset is extremely comfortable, made of soft fabric so you won’t even notice it’s there. Your smartphone fits in a slot, and off you go.

Netflix has surprised its competitors by jumping in to this market. Now, they want to surprise you with their content, because it is only a matter of time before they produce their own VR shows and games. For the time being, when you turn on the Daydream Netflix app, you find yourself in a log cabin, from where you pull up your list of movies and then watch normally. Obviously, this is just the beginning.

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