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Image promoting Primacy's webinar on emerging tech in higher education.In and amongst the autonomous vehicles, smart appliances, 3D printers, fitness trackers and a device called Laundroid at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, there were a few “modest” displays dedicated to Virtual Reality. Of course, if you attended CES2016, you would know that the presence of Virtual Reality was far from modest. Industry leaders like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung as well as a number of other players, were there in force—entertaining attendees with ever-more immersive experiences. The VR booths were great for show but the real substance could be found in some of the discussion panels away from the booths featuring leaders from the front lines of the VR evolution—media, gaming and entertainment. Virtual Reality, Immersing People in Stories Mark Thompson, CEO of the New York Times and Jake Silverstein, Editor and Chief of The New York Times Magazine, discussed their recent partnership with Google where they delivered one million Google Cardboard players to subscribers. New York Times Google Cardboard The initiative was in support of The New York Times Magazine’s coverage of the worst refugee crisis facing the world since World War Two. The VR experience draws attention to the sad fact that over half of the 60 million of the refugees displaced are children by bringing a sobering glimpse of the realities displaced children face. “The Displaced” VR experience is a powerful companion to the magazine article and a clear example of how VR will shift and augment (not disrupt) traditional industries such as media, entertainment, healthcare and education. VR Partnerships Between Publishers and Advertisers With curated content and immersive companion stories, NYT is picking up the pace in producing and distributing high-end content. Thompson goes further to say, “We are putting more money into a program of films with an expectation that in most months of 2016, there will be a new big piece of work from us.” Further, The New York Times partnerships with GE and Mini have proven initially successful as they look for ways to develop and monetize VR content while continuing to tell compelling stories. “We are making money out of VR and we expect to make more in 2016.” Thompson said. The Martian VR Experience Another panel at CES2016 explored the state of VR and how companies like Hulu, 20th Century Fox, and Google are evolving the entertainment experience through VR. Ted Shilowitz, Futurist (great job title) at 20th Century Fox talked about developing companion experiences to films such as The Martian. The Martian VR experience gives viewers the ability to immerse themselves on Mars and experience and adventure on the planet. Released in November, and available via Samsung’s Milk VR, the initiative foreshadows the next wave of content development for Hollywood as the entertainment bar goes higher and higher. What Mr. Shilowitz also noted was the possible misinterpretation of the term VR. His point was that the term “VR” is generally applied to any 3D immersive experience but most of those experiences are not true “reality” as they do not apply binaural audio or tactile elements nor do most experiences allow for viewers to move within the virtual environment. That said, the technologies for such experiences are evolving quickly. Marketers Are Gauging the Reality of VR Opportunities As marketers look to harness the power of VR, there is little doubt that most should be looking closely at how VR can and will factor into their plans over the next five years. Most marketers we spoke with at CES2016 are balancing the desire to innovate with VR against the limited visibility of return on investment. Promotional campaigns such as American Express’s VR experience "You vs. Sharapova" created for this year’s U.S. Open Tennis Tournament garnered great PR, allowing visitors at the tennis tournament to play against the famous athlete. VR experiences like this will likely be duplicated at every major sporting event and musical event from The Super Bowl to Bonnaroo. While more immersive experiences like this are great in-person, they are not yet able to scale as the devices to view them are not widely pervasive. The price point for VR devices such as Oculus Rift are still prohibitively high for the masses but as the technology advances, and competitors enter the market, prices will invariably drop. Importantly, Google Cardboard will give many a low-cost glimpse into the world of VR and allow marketers to invest experimentally and surgically in VR.