Benjamin Durham, Founder of Thrillbox, discusses the importance of measuring immersive engagement with the use of virtual reality analytics.

An interview with Benjamin Durham, Thrillbox

1. Why is it important to measure consumption in VR/AR?

Currently, a major concern when producing immersive content is that you can’t get a return on the investment. We think it’s important to give virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) a measure of consumer engagement so we can create a sustainable opportunity for immersive media, and it can be another tool in the marketer’s tool belt.

While Thrillbox technology is being developed for multiple enterprise verticals, our primary reason for focusing on consumer engagement is that we believe that the future of how we value things is predicated on an economy of attention. Attention is a currency in and of itself. It’s based upon the time that a person decides to spend and where they decide to spend it. What we learn from that time spent can improve a person’s experiences on a day-to-day basis.

Ross Gillard (GraysonX) and Benjamin Durham (Thrillbox)

2. Can’t you just apply established practices of consumption analytics to new immersive mediums like VR and AR?

Currently, people are doing that and it’s part of the reason why we’re not able to create sustainable business opportunities from immersive media creative. There’s a disconnect between the way that we measure and what the value of the content can be.

The inherent value of immersive content is that, for the first time, the technology has enabled us to connect with a user’s ability to look at, or look away from something and be aware of it.

When we look at the history of ad impressions, brands conducted focus groups to measure the audience. Brands couldn’t guarantee that those groups were looking at the content or not. However, they could guarantee that it’s being presented to them. Now there’s a different value, and it’s in knowing what consumers are actually looking at.

3. What are heat-maps and how is Thrillbox innovating beyond these?

Heat-maps are a method of delivering a visualization of a user’s engagement of where a user is looking inside of the immersive experience. Heat-maps aren’t as accurate as they could be. We describe heat-maps as heuristic – it requires human subjective interpretation, which isn’t quantifiable.

What we’ve discovered is that brands and clients don’t want to just know where people are looking, they want to know what they are looking at.

The objective of this next wave of the internet is personalization. In order for internet services to make decisions quickly, technology has to be put in place that enables automation. Our hotspot tools allow you to select objects that are within a video, and then quantify the potential of how long they could have been seen, how long they were in your field of view, and how long they were in the center of your attention. Having this information in a quantifiable format enables existing digital advertising technologies to take advantage of their existing platform’s software to target and personalize the delivery of content.

4. What are the nuances of 360° viewing patterns? How do they differ from traditional media?

One important thing we’ve learned is that, currently, people don’t stay in 360° videos for very long. In the interim, you need to ensure that pieces of 360˚ content are three minutes or less, because everyone is competing for attention. We believe this to be the case for two reasons. First, is the content compelling? Was its production profitable? Second is due to consumer awareness. The majority of consumers exposed to the medium has been limited to platforms like Facebook and Youtube, which have user interfaces (UI) that are designed to optimize the delivery of 2D videos. For example, it is very difficult to distinguish a 360° video from a traditional video on Facebook’s feed. Scrolling through the feed, which consumers have become accustomed to, does not give you the ability to discover 360° videos because they are presented the same was as traditional video. I am confident this will change over time, as more consumers are exposed to 360° videos capabilities more organically, and as more wireless headsets enter the consumer market.

It’s difficult for people to deviate from traditional media, so what we’ve developed is a way for other mobile applications to integrate 360° video technology into their application. I would also suggest that when developing the user experience, trying to take into account that the consumer lacks the same awareness as the team developing the product. So try your best create a UI that naturally distinguishes 360° video from traditional video, even if your platform is responsible for distributing both.

5. Explain how you actually track what a person is doing in VR or AR? Is it based on head-tracking?

Yes, for 360° video, it is based on head-tracking. We collect information from the movement of the display device. For example, if you have a smartphone inside a Google Cardboard, we collect information on your head movements. It is a head-tracking based system that measures potential impressions (item in frame), exposure (time in frame), and focus (time centered). We’re collecting the orientation data for every frame of the video.

Russell Vargo, Thrillbox

6. How can you integrate this with social media?

360° video can be used for promotional purposes, as well as for publishing content. Multi-channel marketing is a great way to discover audiences on social media who take interest in 360° photos and videos. When using our tools for promotional purposes, content can be posted on social platforms with a call-to-action outside of the ecosystem. From there, you can point them to a controlled environment where you have more Own and Operative (O&O) control.

Ultimately, the lesson learned by many entities was that there was more value owning and operating a distribution platform. This resulted in having direct control over content distribution and monetization of their audiences, versus trusting 3rd parties to host and monetize on their behalf. What’s important about Thrillbox’s Workbench technology is that it’s designed to give clients distributive control. This includes promotional and publishing control over where videos are embedded, how audiences are activated, and having access to engagement data that is more in-depth than social media platforms’ aggregated analytics offering.

7. Now that you know what a person is looking at, and for how long, how do you monetize in VR and AR?

There are two ways to look at monetization. The first way is how can you save money, and the second is how you can make money. Our Workbench tool provides a way for people to save money by having distributive control over their content, as well as access to analytics that provide a higher level of data fidelity. If one were to attempt to bring together multiple 3rd parties and develop a “Frankensteined-platform”, it would be expensive and timely. The Thrillbox Workbench was developed with a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), which was designed to enable the integration of loosely coupled microservices. Our platform is capable of providing all the features of cobbling together multiple 3rd parties, without the same costs, vendor management or time concerns.

In addition, there is inherent value in having O&O control. Currently, produced immersive content is primarily distributed on social media platforms. When a client uploads their content to one of those platforms, they surrender control over its distribution, as well as decisions over how monetization of audience engagement is to occur. Distributive control is vital to determining how to make money in immersive media. Our tools give our clients that power and information, which can be used many ways to activate a consumer. Thrillbox collects behavioural data and uses those data sets to generate actionable business intelligence and performance metrics that enterprises are accustomed to. If we know what types of products were focused on in a 360° experience and whose production was subsidized by product placement, that information can be used for targeted ad campaigns. The brands responsible for those campaigns will pay higher rates for access to those audience members devices to publish targeted advertisements, particularly to those who are aware or are interested in their products. The result of this targeting is a higher Cost per Impression (CPM).

8. How is this a long-term solution for brands?

Thrillbox’s technology is a long-term solution for brands and enterprises because of its architecture, which enables distributive control, in addition to streaming big data management and immersive behavioral analytics. With the evolution of OTT (Over the Top), streaming and the delivery of digital content has allowed brands to build their own audiences. Brands want to have direct distributive control and direct access to their audiences. They don’t want to depend solely on third-party data from social media channels. Now, anyone has the ability to make their own content, distribute it, and make more money with less revenue share. Instead of rushing to benefit from the first to market advantage, we focused on understanding the need of enterprises by working with our lighthouse clients to build a solution that operates well with existing or legacy infrastructure.

9. What are some ways that immersive behavioural data sets can be integrated to work with different ecosystems?

Data enrichment and targeted marketing. For example, the ability for us to understand a person’s interests based on what they focus on within immersive content and then note where there are opportunities to satiate that interest when you’re going to and from different places. If an agency were to create a 360° video for an NBA team and use our tools to tag each of the players within the experience, we can determine which members of the team the audience member directed their attention to the most and least. Knowing which players each audience member focused on would allow teams to send targeted advertisements for a specific players’ jersey to each end user based upon which player they paid attention to the most. Perhaps these notifications occur during halftime for those that are in attendance of a game in the arena, because the jersey is an exclusive and is only sold in specific locations within the stadium. Or maybe the end user is presented a discount to incentivize an online sell because they aren’t at the game.

Benjamin Durham, Thrillbox

10. What does the future hold for VR, AR and immersive data and analytics? Where’s it all going?

One of the greatest challenges right now is how to create the proper standards for enterprises and brands to access valuable and actionable data, while simultaneously preserving the integrity of a user’s privacy. There needs to be a level of integrity out of the gate when handling this information. We have worked really hard on developing a proprietary method for how we define the user and collect and associate information in a way that doesn’t have any personally identifiable information.  

In the future, Thrillbox will continue to build out the features and microservices offered on the Workbench, as well as expand the application of our big streaming data management platform to include VR and AR. While we look forward to the future, we do feel that focus needs to be on exercising humility and working diligently in the present. As a modality, immersive has yet to move beyond the trough of disillusionment to mass adoption. So there is much work to be done.  2018 is definitely the year of showing and proving. 

Overall, the future of immersive media looks very bright. Sorry for the pun, but advancements in image sensors, computing power, artificial intelligence, energy consumption, and display technology are occurring at an exponential rate. I am most intrigued by how these technological advancements will influence the method in which a story is told and how it is presented.