At Tribeca Film Festival, Virtual Reality Steals the Show

Virtual reality made a big splash at this year's Tribeca Film Festival -- as anyone who visited the event's Virtual Arcade and watched some of the VR-enabled films featured there will be sure to tell you. It's moment on the "red carpet" was featured in stories far and wide, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Fortune, and the Hollywood Reporter. The sudden emergence of VR at Tribeca has everyone in the film industry watching about the reactions of those who watched and VR's possibilities as a customer draw.

Although, perhaps "watched" isn't the right word since people didn't so much view the films, as don a headset and set sail to distant lands, save the world or escape an ax murderer. It was an exciting week, to say the least.

The Virtual Arcade at the Tribeca Film Festival captures the immense opportunity that virtual reality presents. In film, directors and producers can not only create new worlds, but allow people to explore them first-hand. People aren't viewers of a film -- they're the hero, the sidekick, the villain. At a time when the film industry is striving to capture bigger audiences and tackle more complex issues, virtual reality presents one way to make a mark.

Beyond Film: VR is More than Movies

Of course, the opportunities presented by VR reach far beyond the world of film. VR offers a fresh canvas for just about any marketer in any industry with a story to tell and the desire to reach their customers in new entertaining ways.

Take retail, for example. The potential in this industry is unparalleled, given that virtual reality allows retailers to build imaginative and immersive "show worlds" while elevating their story to new dimensions, enabling anyone, anywhere to experience literally any product in the world.

Just as filmmakers invented new worlds for Tribeca Film Festival goers to explore (or save, as the case may be), so too can retailers build experiences that dazzle their customers.

For example, if someone is shopping for a wedding dress, she can invite friends and family around the world to join her at the boutique. If a shopper is looking for a new watch, he can learn more about the inner workings and superior craftsmanship of the piece through a VR experience. A hiker can test equipment on the trail. A homeowner can try a new color sample on their kitchen walls. A driver can feel how a car operates in all kinds of weather conditions.

Like in film, the possibilities for VR in retail are endless. Anyone with an imagination can come up with a handful of great applications for this new medium. The issue, of course, is making it happen.

Virtual Reality: The Future is Now

It's understandable why there is still great deal of hesitation to invest in VR, a medium whose future prospects, though incredibly promising, are still unclear.

I'm a strong advocate for brands to experiment now rather than waiting until the need for VR content is urgent. If current sales of Samsung Gear VR are any indication, this time may be coming sooner than later.

Brands and retailers should consider investing in testing and learning now, so that they will be ready for when virtual reality experiences are no longer merely a novelty but something that consumers are actively seeking.

VR is all about heightened storytelling that causes people to experience something on a visceral level, which is what the best and most ambitious creative marketers are always striving to do. Once more and more creatives gain experience with the format, we're going to see some incredible work made for the medium -- in entertainment, retail and beyond.