YouTube Rolls Out Heatmap Analytics for 360 Degree Video

The world in undeniably enamored with virtual reality and spherical video content, so it’s no wonder the software world is flooding toward VR, AR and all the other R’s that keep cropping up. But these are embryonic days, and there’s an equally undeniable concern that the dot com bubble might be repeating itself.

At WEARVR don’t believe that to be the case, of course, and not just because we love VR so very, very much. Much the same as yourself. Lessons were learned during the last online industry crash, and there’s a healthy sense of caution permeating the virtual reality industry already.

Analytics are being seen as the key to survival and growth of VR in all its forms, as a way to guide us all toward the tipping point where the technology has become entrenched in the public consciousness. To that end, YouTube is rolling out a new form of analytics to its 360 degree content producers.

The Hot and Cold of Spherical Videos

We’re inclined to recoil whenever we hear about new types of behavioural data being collected around our online habits, and this is no different. This generally comes from big businesses hoarding data for ever increasing sales efficiency, but for the moment, at least, YouTube’s new analytics are a genuine benefit to this fledgling industry.

We’re still learning exactly how spherical video content can be applied in practical, eventful ways, and not just as a fad or novelty. To this end the Google-owned video distribution service is now giving its 360 degree video producers a heatmap visualization of exactly where viewers are choosing to direct their focus.

A flattened, 2D rendering of the spherical video shows where people are inclined to look during viewing.

This is a whole new type of audience data. Even on massive IMAX cinema screens no one’s ever had to worry about where the audience is looking. It’s hardly as if they’d be sitting the wrong way around in their seats, staring up at the projection booth and subsequently missing that incredibly exciting moment when [SPOILER CENSOR] happened in the new Star Wars movie.

But in 360 degree video, this is a distinct possibility. Yet if the audience’s perspective were to be forced, a whole other slew of problems would arise (motion sickness, and a self-defeating practice for VR viewing not being the least of them).

So careful (even casual) analysis of a heatmap offers the beginnings of understanding for a whole new type of film director; one who must carefully guide the viewer to look in the right direction at the right time, or risk having them miss an important plot point.

It’s the first real insight into how the directors of the future will have to think, and it’s a dizzying concept in every possible sense of the word.

How to Make Engaging Spherical Video

These heatmaps will become available to you once your 360 degree video has received a minimum of 1,000 views (at which point an analytical picture starts to become clear). YouTube has been taking a look at the data already, and compiled some preliminary insights into what direction these heatmaps are taking us.

Engaging spherical videos require more than just standing a VR camera in a busy place, it seems.

Engaging spherical videos require more than just standing a VR camera in a busy place, it seems.

  • People are still spending 75% of their time looking straight forward, despite being able to look in any direction. Perhaps this figure will go down as the audience becomes more accustomed to VR video viewing, but right now the focus of your content should be in front of the viewer when the video begins.
  • Audience engagement with a video (that is to say they’re enjoying watching it) is currently the biggest driver in terms of encouraging viewers to look around the whole scene. 20% of views in these more popular videos were then being directed behind the user.
  • Awareness of the different viewing options is important, since people could be using a headset, which takes them a few moments to become orientated, or dragging the image around on a smartphone screen, in which case they’re instantly engaged. So some manner of buffer is apparently in order so people don’t feel rushed or hampered when viewing in VR — which is ultimately what we want them to do.

It’s the beginnings of a fascinating subject that has tendrils reaching into all kinds of different jobs. Analysts, brand promoters and marketers will need to learn an understanding of spherical awareness just as much as writers, developers and directors.

As small as the matter may seem right now, this is actually an exciting progression in helping to increase the accessibility and enjoyment of VR and 360 degree content for the general online public, and that, after all, is the key to the entire industry’s success.


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