Virtual Reality is tempting as a storytelling device, Amy Webb admits. But Augmented Reality has a longer and stronger ROI for news media companies, Webb, founder and CEO of Webbmedia Group, explained at the 2017 INMA World Congress in New York City, where she was a keynote speaker.

Webb asks you to think about how people actually use VR, which involves a headset with audio, blocking out your sight and sound. So where can consumers use this? Certainly not on the subway or in a public lobby.

“Essentially this relegates me to having that experience before I’ve left for work, maybe if I’ve got some time during work, which most people probably don’t, or after hours. And that cuts into free time. And my question is if people — in what limited free time people have — do they want to have an immersive news experience? And all of the data that we’ve seen shows no, that’s not what people want.”

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for VR. There is, Webb says.

“There are certain stories that are best told in Virtual Reality, and I think there’s definitely a place for some of that. But as a primary investment in mixed reality for the future, I don’t understand how folks decided that that was the right strategic play.”

In the future, AR will involve special glasses and a smartphone, tools that are more consumer friendly. 

“We know that what makes longer-term sense is the ability to hold my phone up or to hold a pair of glasses, understand the context of the world or the people who are around me, and use that to make decisions. That’s the smarter, longer-term play. But it doesn’t immediately exist. It will soon.

“I would much rather that news organisations take whatever money and time and people they’re spending in Virtual Reality and dedicate it to Augmented Reality, knowing that it may be five years before anything happens. It’s a better, smarter, longer investment strategy than making a couple bucks in the short term with Virtual Reality or spending a couple bucks in order to do some experimentation.”