Are Pay-Per-View 3D Virtual Tours a Thing?

Businesses, communities and families worldwide are reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – and will be for some time.  We are all trying to understand what the ‘New Normal’ looks like as we adopt safety measures and controls to minimise repeated resurgences of the disease.

Here at HomePlan NZ we specialize is Building 3D Virtualization – taking what physically exists and creating a digital replica/twin of it so people can be there, when they’re not.  We primarily use the Matterport platform, producing 3D virtual walkthroughs/tours for all sorts of purposes.

Following the onset of COVID-19, we rapidly developed and deployed a service that provides a ‘Go Virtual’ Pay-Per-View (PPV) 3D Virtual Tour service around Matterport 3D Virtual Tours.  To our knowledge this had never been done before – and as we released it, people started asking the obvious question….are Pay-Per-View 3D Virtual Tours a Thing?

Great question!  Well, given that the HomePlan ‘Go Virtual’ PPV 3D Virtual Tour service is now live, the short answer is yes – they are a thing.  We can take any existing Matterport or MP/embed 3D Virtual Tour and publish it via our service to provide limited-time, paid access to it.

But to delve a bit deeper into this question – who will use it?  Are the general public prepared to pay, to access something that until now has only be used for free access?

Well, let’s take a look!

Why we have and love Free 3D Virtual Tours

The traditional use of a 3D Virtual Tour is to present a physical space via digital media without the virtual visitor incurring any charge.

Think real estate sales.  The 3D Virtual Tour is accessed by potential buyers to decide if they are interested in buying the property.  The payback comes from the sale of the property.  If you charged to provide access to the 3D Virtual Tour, you would discourage potential buyers.  So publishing a free-entry 3D Virtual Tour as part of the marketing package is the way to go.

Now think about venues that generate revenue when people visit in person – this is a wide group including restaurants, conference venues, museums, exhibitions and the like.  The virtual visitor gets an online ‘taste’ of what the venue has to offer, to decide if they want to attend in person.  The payback comes from the products or services that the venue sells when the virtual visitor becomes a physical visitor.  So again, publishing a free-entry 3D Virtual Tour makes good business sense.

An extension of this concept is payback via online cross- and up-selling.  The 3D Virtual Tour may be a free feature on a web site, but online visitors are then encouraged to purchase products or services online.  The payback comes from the online sales generated.

A final example worth mentioning is 3D Virtual Tours produced to record and present the history or heritage of a location for general public good/interest.  I recently saw some awesome 3D Virtual Tours of tombs in Egypt, and if those who manage these locations never intend to have visitors but still want to provide free access online via a 3D Virtual Tour – that’s absolutely awesome.  This is acknowledging that in some situations there does not need to be a financial payback.

When the virtual experience is what you are selling

In the above examples, the free 3D Virtual Tour is a way of drawing a virtual visitor towards a payback proposition.  But, especially in today’s environment, what if the 3D Virtual Tour can be directly responsible for generating the payback?

This is a change in philosophy, and yes it’s a new one so please take some time to consider it.  We are all used to the concept of a movie costing us – from theatres to video/DVD release to online PPV or channel subscriptions.  We are used to paying for video games, and people are generally happy to do so as in return for the cost, they get an experience.

And that’s the key.  Humans are prepared to pay in exchange for the prospect of a pleasing or worthwhile experience.  The better the experience, the more value they associate with it.

Now consider a 3D Virtual Tour in the same light.  It may be that many of the 3D Virtual Tours you have seen or experienced to date do not meet this test – because they were not designed to do so.  But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be designed and enhanced, to deliver an experience worth paying for.  Read on!

Have a venue that virtual visitors will appreciate

First things first.  A PPV 3D Virtual Tour of your basement won’t be of interest to the general, online public (or maybe it will….I don’t know what’s down there….).  There needs to be a connection between what interests a potential virtual visitor, and what the PPV 3D Virtual Tour offers.

The leading candidates are museums and exhibitions.  Due to the pandemic many such venues are closed and not able to generate revenue from people visiting in person.  Or, even if they are open, they may want to provide an experience for those who can’t or won’t travel from afar to visit.

Then you have hard to reach places of interest.  During our PPV beta testing phase we were given access to some mind-blowing examples including a museum in the Chernobyl restricted zone, and a massive abandoned six-storey castle in Poland.  I’m a richer person for having virtually-visited these places, and I’m sure others would pay to have such a unique virtual experience.

And sometimes it’s not actually the venue that attracts the interest – it’s the cause the host is raising funds for.  Decking out a venue for an Easter Egg hunt, or a Christmas display, or other form of unique experience then promoting the PPV 3D Virtual Tour with net proceeds going to a charitable cause will be appreciated and attract those who support that cause.

The bare 3D Virtual Tour is the foundation for the experience, not the entire experience

3D Virtual Tours can be fun to use, but if they are devoid of any value-added content you will find people do not stay for long.  And, using museums and exhibitions as an example, no matter how good the 3D photo resolution a virtual visitor will struggle to interpret any physical wayfinding, read placards and generally be well-engaged by what’s on display.

At HomePlan NZ we call this next step ‘post-production’, and to create a high quality experience it often takes longer than the 3D capture process.  Here’s some things we do in post-production for a PPV candidate:

  1. Determine a guided walk path you want virtual visitors to follow.
  2. Add introduction videos at the start to greet virtual visitors and provide them with an overview of the venue and/or 3D Virtual Tour.
  3. Translate any key placards, storyboards or descriptions that may be visible (or not) in the 3D imagery into tagged, easy to read digital content, including links to external sites where relevant.
  4. Where high-quality 2D photography exists of points of interest, also include these with the descriptions.
  5. (Using MP/embed) add background music, location-activated narration and onscreen prompts. Trust me – MP/embed is a worthwhile investment to get the most out of any 3D Virtual Tour!

This all takes time to design and apply – but it converts an otherwise mundane 3D Virtual Tour into an experience worth paying for.

Promote, promote, promote

Creating paid content on the web is like throwing a diamond into the ocean – it will soon be lost from sight and mind.  Don’t expect to create a PPV 3D Virtual Tour and people will flock to it, especially given the newness of the concept of paying for entry into a 3D Virtual Tour.

The host’s web site should promote the PPV 3D Virtual Tour, explain what it provides to entice virtual visitors.  You might create still photos, short videos or even publish a non-PPV sample of the same 3D Virtual Tour so they know what they are getting.  Do all the things you would do, if you were trying to attract visitors in person.

Then get it out there – social media, boosted posts, paid Google advertising – like all things, it takes investment and hard work to draw in potential visitors.

What’s in it for me?

Well that depends who you are!

For virtual visitors, we hope that PPV 3D Virtual Tours will provide new opportunities for them to visit venues and locations they otherwise would not, or could not.  And as more 3D Virtual Tours are enriched as we’ve suggested above, these visitors will begin to appreciate that there’s the ability to have an experience they will enjoy, and that’s worth paying for.

For the hosts who own or manage the venue, it’s about raising funds – be it charitable or for-profit enterprises.  Especially if their fund raising is currently constrained, and will continue to be constrained by the current COVID-19 global health crisis.  Hosts can open up their venues to a global audience – right now!

And then there’s those in the middle – the 3D Technicians those who do the work to capture the venue in 3D.  Now that we have developed a value proposition for both the host and the virtual visitor, the 3D Technician’s opportunity is to draw it all together.  Ensure you price both the onsite 3D capture work, and the post-production work that follows to create an experience worthy of PPV.  This will increase your revenue from such jobs, and in turn lead to other similar jobs once people see the quality of experience your work provides.

So – are Pay-Per-View 3D Virtual Tours a Thing?

Yes.  PPV 3D Virtual Tours are a new opportunity that provide a value proposition to hosts, virtual visitors and 3D Technicians.  This proposition is reliant on turning basic 3D Virtual Tours into an enriched experience that virtual visitors are prepared to pay for and enjoy. 

And there’s no time like the present to Go Virtual with HomePlan Pay-Per-View of Matterport 3D Tours!