When JWT Intelligence announced its "10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond" recently, trend #1 was "immersive experiences." Certainly you can feel this in New York: From Punchdrunk's Sleep No More (now running for nearly three years) to MoMA's Rain Room to Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room, people are willing to pay top dollar or line up for hours to experience something all-encompassing and beyond the ordinary. But why?
The new report—based on a survey of Internet users in the US and the UK, on assessments from JWT planners around the world, and on interviews with outside observers (myself included)—lists six key reasons. Interestingly, only two have anything to do with advances in technology or production techniques. The remaining four stem from broad societal shifts—shifts that are tied to, but in many cases a reaction against, the always-on nature of the digital world.
1. Improved technology
We're talking virtual reality here: The much-anticipated (and brilliantly named) Oculus Rift headset, currently in development, looks to deliver on the promise VR first showed in the 1980s. The difference is that now it actually works outside the lab. With a 110-degree field of view and some pretty mind-boggling demo games, the Oculus Rift looks set to redefine immersion. No wonder Andreessen Horowitz just led a $75 million round of funding, with Marc Andreessen joining Oculus VR's board.
2. The rise of transmedia
Just a few years ago, the idea of telling stories through different types of media was mostly just that—an idea. Lost had attempted it, none too successfully; 42 Entertainment did a lot better teaming with Trent Reznor on Year Zero. The turning point may have been 42's subsequent work on The Dark Knight, an epic, 15-month journey that brought some 11 million people worldwide into Christopher Nolan's saga. Hardly a major movie or television series launches today without some attempt to engage the audience directly—to invite them into a world, not just let them view it from afar. There's still a great deal of work to be done—many of those "second screen" experiences are all too forgettable—but at least network and studio executives have it on their agenda. Which is a big change from the way things used to be.