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Facebook introduces 360-degree videos to drum up excitement for Oculus

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Facebook has a plan to make its $2 billion acquisition of the Oculus virtual reality company make sense: introducing 360-degree videos to its service.

The company has partnered with Vice, GoPro, and other companies to bring a wide variety of videos, from movie trailers to documentaries, to the format. People can watch them on the Facebook website or via their Android devices “over the coming days,” while iPhone owners have to wait for a few months.

Facebook’s engineers partnered with their counterparts in the Oculus division to create this update, according the company.  This is, according to a report from the Verge, the first time the two divisions have worked together to introduce a new feature for the Facebook website.

The videos aren’t that fun to interact with on a laptop. They often paused when I meant to drag them around to change the view, and they were quite stutter-y. (I am prepared to blame this on the sluggishness of my rural Internet connection, but that doesn’t change how annoying it was to keep seeing that loading wheel.)

Still, there’s some obvious potential here — especially when you think about how these videos must play on a device like the Oculus, which is designed to support immersive content, instead of with a desktop browser and trackpad. Facebook is taking a baby step toward convincing people to give Oculus a try.

Oculus was conceived as a gaming device. Many of its competitors in the virtual reality space are focused on the same category. Coding a virtual reality game is one thing; buying the equipment necessary to create 360-degree videos, and dealing with all the hassles that introduces to the filming process, is another.

Supporting those videos could give Facebook the content it needs to convince non-gamers that virtual reality will matter to them in the short-term. (Insert the obligatory reference to the holodeck, or Louis CK’s bit about Verizon, here.) Games aren’t for everyone, but interactive videos set in the Star Wars universe or offering access to war zones are likely to appeal to a much wider audience.

Not that this type of video is exclusive to Facebook: YouTube introduced 360-degree videos to its service in March. But given Facebook’s efforts to convince media organizations to post directly to its service, whether it’s through Instant Articles or other means, it’s not hard to imagine publications favoring its site.

Then again, Google’s public efforts to enter the virtual reality market center on a few pieces of cardboard onto which people can mount their smartphones. Facebook is, at least in public, making a much bigger bet on the format. I suspect we’ll see more announcements like this one as Oculus establishes itself.