Beyond Reality - With Joe Williams, Head of Immersive Tech at LADBible

Posted by Sacha Clarke | 21-Apr-2022 12:47:01

Our 2022 Disruptive Trends Report highlighted that augmented reality and virtual reality will become a key tool to engage audiences in the next 3 years. So how can leaders apply immersive tech as an opportunity to give customers memorable CX?  

Joe Williams, Head of Immersive Tech at UK publishing group LADBible, joined us at Chief Disruptor LIVE last October to give us an insight into what it really means to work in the extended reality sector, and what opportunities can be grasped across industries.


It would be great to first hear about your role at LADBible.

So I run an immersive department at LADBible, which fundamentally looks after the extended reality sector, which exists for both VR and AR. I joined the company about 3 and a half years ago, and since then the department has grown organically, which has brought us to where we are today!


Can you tell us more about VR and AR, and the role they play in the wider content strategy?

In a very simplistic way of thinking about it, it gives our creatives access to more mediums to experiment with. We have armies of creatives in the building, all who work on editorial, social, commercial campaigns, so they’re now able to evolve those forms of communication with our audiences.


We noticed through our research that AR and VR were on every organisations’ 3-year radar, but since 2017, very little has actually changed in terms of organisations investing in those technologies. Why do you think there’s not been as much implementation as expected?

I think it’s different for each specific sector. From a consumer-AR/VR perspective, and in the realms of entertainment and marketing, it’s been particularly full-on.

Over the weekend, I was trying to explain what my role is to my Nan, in its most shorthand version, because the “extended reality sector” is an entirely new language entering our industries. There are a large handful of startups trying to excel forward with the likes of the metaverse, but you have to be realistic with how complex these concepts are. Saying that, from the entertainment view, it’s like being a kid in a candy shop with these opportunities, in terms of how we can engage our audience with these options. 

Around 62% of FTSE 100 brands are implementing AR, so in that sense, it’s flying! But I can imagine how other sectors are struggling to innovate with these features, which can bring potential repercussions. For example, utility companies may not be as robust with AR/VR strategy, as they ideally want because the opportunities are finer. 


With consumers moving more online since the pandemic hit, what impacts did the pandemic have on immersive tech?

The pandemic was a strange one for everyone… From an XR perspective, we had a well-established 3-5 year roadmap ready to be implemented. And then all of a sudden, lockdown kicked in and everyone’s lives were put on hold. It was our priority to understand what we can do for our audience because they’d inevitably be looking at their phones a considerable amount more, which is why there was so much value with AR: you can take your entertainment slightly beyond the screen consumption to actual interaction. So in that respect, lockdown considerably accelerated the growth, and it’s remained that way since.


Something we saw LADBible do in lockdown, was the streaming of a musician via hologram. Can you tell us about that?

We wanted to produce a source of escapism at that moment which also stood out beyond regular music content. We’d been working with an amazing hologram company called Beem to do back-end testing for it, so we knew it would work over web AR. It was essentially a perfect storm with the talent that was coming towards us in the same period of time! We took in Yungblud (the singer) because he covered a broad audience, flew with the idea of using a hologram of him performing, and made it into a feature for mobile users to have fun with.

Holograms tap into remix culture, and in the broader demographic as well, people want to take assets of these new features, and remix it into their own content output. We ended up having a ton of user-generated content with the hologram video who set up their own recordings at home! It allowed people to get their own sense of recognition from the idea and have fun with it. The response and engagement went so well, we’ve produced 3 more since then.


Across the entertainment industry, do you see holograms as being the way forward?

Holograms are interesting because you can split them up into different areas. On mobile devices, you can distribute these easily on small file sizes, and are easy to capture. Then you have larger scale types that can be made in polymeric capture studios, which can cost between £70-80,000 (and if you’re a music label that has that budget then that’s great).

From our perspective, those ongoing episodic social holograms will be seen more from us, because that quick and accessible level is enough for our audience. It is worth considering the best approach for each sector. For the music industry, holograms have so much potential to give audiences a different kind of experience when watching virtual artists on stage. For the sports industry, at some point down the line VR headsets may not be enough to meet new XR demands, so there are definitely more opportunities to explore on the road to holograms.


In the wider tech strategy, how is VR/AR helping LADBible to grow on the consumer side?

We’re the world’s largest social publisher, so we’re always looking at ways to grow! While we are focussed on audience engagement, what also comes with it is how people are engaging with us, and this comes back to metrics. How we assess these will be completely different in the next 5 years, because it will be measured on new forms of interacting within AR and VR, as opposed to how we’ll measure our audience engagements with holograms - it’s an entirely new set of metrics which we never used to think about. 


AR definitely appears to be prevalent in entertainment. What lessons can other industries take from implementing this type of technology?

For other brands, I don't think we understand how far more complex it is for other industries to acquire AR. But I’m starting to see it a lot more in the education sector - there’s an entirely new set of ways children can now be engaged as a form of learning, so it’s positive to see how they can become more actively involved. When we consider audience immersion, it’s good to ask: how involved can you get your target audience in your story? Find out how you can make your intended experience happen all around them - it’s great to implement where you can because you just can’t achieve full immersion to the same degree with 2D content.


Which direction of growth do you think AR/VR will head in the next 10 years?

With XR as a sector, I like to compare it to the Teletext days: information on demand. I remember back when it was a brand new concept, I’d always snatch the TV remote off of my sister, and tap “302” to the sports headlines. Knowing the specific digits on the television to get exactly what I wanted to watch blew my mind at the time (but obviously now everyone is walking around with a smartphone in their pocket)!

It’s the same with XR - we’re extremely proud of all the work we’ve achieved, but I know I’ll look back in 5-10 years' time, and smile at what will be dated case studies. That’s the beauty and pace of the sector we’re in. It’s exciting to think about where it might go next.


Interested in finding out more about AR,VR and the metaverse?  Sign up to our metaverse masterclass at Chief Disruptor LIVE this Spring.


Want to learn more? Check out our other content here.


Topics: Thought Leadership

Written by Sacha Clarke

Sacha is part of the Marketing and Editorial teams at Nimbus Ninety. She explores what the biggest trends are in business and technology, and creates content for our community.

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