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Startup Immersv launches VR ad-only platform that it says is the most complete
Built specifically for this format, the platform provides a new “staging scene” display format that the company hopes to make into an IAB standard.
Today, a startup called Immersv is launching a new platform specifically designed for mobile virtual reality (VR) ads. The company — based in Los Angeles and Emeryville, California — was founded last year, and the platform has been in beta testing since December.
At launch, the platform houses several dozen ads, all of them for VR app installs. Co-founder and CEO Mihir Shah told me that Immersv is open to other kinds of VR ads, but for now, it’s entirely composed of ads for app installs, because they pay the bills. SuperData Research has predicted that VR gaming, which is the most popular VR app, will reach $5.1 billion in revenues this year.
Immersv’s supported VR viewers are the two best-known mobile ones, the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard. The high-end Oculus Rift is a head-mounted display connected to a computer, and Shah said the platform will likely support it eventually.
The platform serves four media types of ads. There are 3-D video ads, like the ones you wear special glasses to see the depth, and there are flat, 2-D regular videos.
There are also 360-degree video spherical ads, like the kind seen on YouTube, as well as true VR environments. The first one is a recorded video that you move around from a fixed point, while the latter is a movable environment you can explore.
Each of those four types are served into an Immersv-created and delivered VR environment, where the user sees the ads.
Shah noted that VR ads, unlike other digital ads, cannot just be served into the available content inventory.
The VR staging scene
“If I teleported you two inches in front of a TV screen [while you’re in a VR app], you’d be disoriented,” he said, “because you’re in an immersive world.” All VR ads “need to be served into some kind of scene, to give it depth” and to orient the viewer, he added.
Immersv’s solution to that problem is a true VR staging scene, such as the theater at the top of this page, where you can move all around.
“Suppose I’m in Alien Attack (VR game),” he said. “When you ‘die,’” you transition into our movie theater to see [the] ad.” Before the immersive ad takes over the theater, there’s a written notice to the effect of: “You’re about to watch a preview” of a new VR app.
If it’s a 2-D or 3-D video, it plays on the screen in the theater, and you can make the screen larger. If it’s a spherical 360-degree or a true VR ad, you start in the theater and then become immersed in the ad. All of the ads last between 30 seconds and one minute and contain an exit button and a fast-forward button that you can “click” by staring for several seconds.
Here, for instance, is an ad that’s served either as a 2-D flat video or as a VR ad:
Immersv has also developed other VR staging scenes in which ads can be presented, including a drive-in and a hunting lodge. Shah said the only alternative is to build something custom in each VR app according to Immersv’s specs, which some developers do, but that solution, of course, doesn’t scale.
Other companies have launched what they describe as VR ad networks, including Airpush’s VirtualSky. Shah said his company’s platform is the only one, to his knowledge, that serves all four media types of ads into a true VR environment, with “full install attribution” that reports back when someone downloads the advertised app.
The theater/drive-in/hunting lodge VR staging scene, he said, is based on the Internet Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) VAST (Video Ad Serving Template) standard.
He added that Immersv wants its staging scene to become the standard ad unit for VR ads, and it will be submitting the specs — including dimensions, depth and the artwork — to IAB for approval.
There are currently three kinds of placement for the ads served by Immersv. One kind, similar to rewarded video ads, are shown in the staging scene during a break, like when you’ve run out of weapons. If the user watches the entire ad, there’s a reward, such as another level.
New kind of attribution
In another type, there’s a pre-roll of the VR ad in the staging scene before the VR app begins, similar to a pre-roll ad in YouTube.
In the third kind, you get to the VR ad from inside the game, via a “more content” button that suggests, in effect: “Here are other apps you may want to check out.” Like all the other ads, it also plays in a theater or other type of staging scene.
Ads served into VR apps require their own particular attribution methods, Shah said, including a different sales-conversion tracking that is triggered by a user’s gaze.
The pricing structure is cost-per-view, similar to video ads. While there is open real-time bidding, Shah said the pricing is currently between three cents and five cents per view. Video ad platform Vindico reported in 2014 a 46-percent completion rate on smartphones and 54 percent on tablets; Immersv says its VR ads have an average of 79-percent completion.
The ads are created by Immersv, or they are developed in-house by participating VR app developers, such as Archiact, Element Games, Lunagames, Alitech, Arloopa and Meta3D. Shah said his company is not yet working with agencies but is not opposed to doing so.
As for where his company’s platform fits into the ecosystem, it’s essentially a full stack — the supply-side platform (SSP) for the app publisher, the ad server, the attribution, and the demand-side platform (DSP) for advertisers. The platform runs on Amazon Web Services’ distributed network of servers.
But, Shah told me, the best way to think of the platform is as a SSP, providing a way for publishers to access VR ads and their bids. Eventually, he said, the platform may integrate with outside ad-servers and with advertiser-focused DSPs.