• The new VR video plan is designed to offer stronger storytelling opportunities for artists and musicians and additional engagement avenues for fans.
  • Pitchfork says interactive nature of VR opens up a number of possibilities for visualizing and experiencing music.
  • "Digital video represents the most stable and valuable forms of digital advertising." —Pitchfork VP of video programming

Pitchfork is positioning its online music magazine and video strategy in the immersive vertical of virtual reality.

The Condé Nast-owned publication and festival purveyor is partnering with platform and studio Inception to combine music and VR for the launch of a new channel.

The new VR video plan is designed to offer stronger storytelling opportunities for artists and musicians and additional engagement avenues for fans.

Pitchfork, a trusted voice for journalism in the music industry, was born at the dawn of the digital era in 1995. The media organization launched a video vertical in 2008 producing documentaries, live performances and web series. It’s now uniting forces with Inception—a company that wants to be the Netflix for VR—to create a consistent VR content pipeline. The first piece from the partnership will be published in the coming weeks.

Adam Krefman, Pitchfork’s director of brand development, RJ Bentler, Pitchfork’s vice president of video programming and Inception CEO Benny Arbel joined AListDaily to talk about how VR will impact their industry.

What kind of content can we expect on the Pitchfork VR Music Channel? 

Bentler: We’ve been approached with a number of VR opportunities over the last couple of years. But when we first started talking to Inception, what I liked about them—aside from their technical expertise—is that they’re very interested in what Pitchfork wanted to do. While we’re not putting any limits on what we may do down the road, at the moment, we’re singularly focused on creating VR music videos. Music videos have been a huge driver of the digital medium for at least a decade, and have helped shape and define the form. It’s an infinitely malleable format, and the immersive and interactive nature of VR opens up an equally infinite number of possibilities for visualizing and experiencing music.

How does this deal open up new marketing avenues for Pitchfork? 

Krefman: We see VR as a natural extension of events we—or our advertising partners—are already doing. Whether that’s tapping into the Pitchfork Music Festivals in Chicago or Paris, or other events, we’re excited about bringing experiences to people with VR devices, and amplifying through Facebook 360. There’s also a subset of marketing partners who we think will be open to taking a chance by creating content with VR in mind.

What is your plan to shift Pitchfork’s strategy in the original content, branded video production and partnerships space?

Bentler: The digital video space has changed dramatically in the last couple of years. We’ve moved from a mono-platform, YouTube-centric medium into multi-platform and multi-format medium. Things move fast, and new formats and platforms are emerging all the time. While I don’t think we can be everything to everyone, or that every emerging trend or format lends itself to Pitchfork, there are a number that do. When we see these opportunities, and believe that we can innovate within the form, we act decisively. The best agencies, brands and sponsors know they’re operating in this multi-platform and multi-format world, too, and are most interested in working with partners who’re engaging with the audiences in a meaningful way. That, more than anything, is what we try to do—engage audiences—because that’s what’s most valuable to everyone, including Pitchfork.

How will you be creating and distributing the experiences?

Arbel: We’re fortunate to partner with Rachel Rossin, one of the leading VR artists in the world who is doing some really amazing work in the medium. What helped a lot was the collaboration, and being on the same page from the very start. Distribution is done through the Inception platform, which is built to make it easy for us and other creators to roll content out across all platforms quickly. The platform is also built specifically to enhance VR streaming experiences to make sure that users get the best possible playback, with none of the buffering or lag issues that VR can sometimes have.

The content will be distributed widely on all VR platforms in addition to both social and editorial support by Pitchfork, including the 360 version of the experience that will live on their channels. Why did you identify Pitchfork as a perfect partner?

Arbel: Music is a key pillar for our audience and a genre that is perfectly tuned for VR. We knew that to make an impact in the space, we needed to bring in the very best elements and that is exactly what Pitchfork represents. They’re not just a destination—they’re part of the culture of music, and one that has been able to consistently innovate. From their storytelling and creative prowess to the respect they garner from audiences and talent alike, this was a no-brainer and we feel very fortunate to have them as a partner.

How will VR and 360-degree content impact online video moving forward? 

Bentler: I see a number of potential paths for VR and 360-degree video. Although the technology has been around for decades in various forms, the immersive and interactive palette and potential of VR and 360 still feels fairly embryonic. We’re excited to be in the trenches with our partners at Inception, and with some of the most creative musicians, artists, animators, programmers and directors in the world. It feels wide open, and everyone working in this space has the opportunity to change the game. That said, I think it’s the interactive side of VR that has the most infinite potential.

How is VR going to change music marketing? 

Arbel: This is an entirely new way for fans to experience their favorite song, album or artist in ways that have not been possible before. One of the things that makes VR special is its ability to immerse the user in an experience unlike anything else, and that allows for deeper connections to form. Instead of just watching a concert you can be on-stage right next to your favorite musician or become an object or character in their newest music video. It allows fans to be an active participant in these experiences and from a marketing standpoint. That type of engagement can do wonders.

Krefman: So much has happened in the last year alone that reduces or eliminates the amount of time and space between an event—or, in our case, a concert or festival—and the wider world’s access to it. Think about Facebook Live or Instagram Stories—they barely existed a year ago. In terms of marketing, we see VR as another similar opportunity, but with even deeper engagement. Arguably, the most interesting opportunities will be happening in scripted and produced content, where we will be able to create entire worlds alongside the music we love.

How do you envision the music video space evolving with VR? What potential does it hold? 

Bentler: Do I think that in two years every band will have a VR music video? Probably not. There’s still a bit of a barrier to entry in the space, and while there have been a number of significant creative achievements with VR music videos, it’s still fairly open. One of the cool things about our partnership with Inception is that we’re offering artists and musicians the opportunity to experiment within a medium that is (probably) completely new to them. But, I firmly believe that the music video format and its potential for almost infinite reinvention offers a really interesting format for experimentation in the space.

How would you best assess the current digital video market?

Bentler: The hard part is on the advertising and monetization side of things, but that’s the case in publishing, television . . . pretty much everywhere. At the moment, though, I do think that digital video represents the most stable and valuable forms of digital advertising—be it pre-roll, mid-roll, branded content and white label production, among others.

How is video being consumed? What needs to change?

Bentler: It’s being consumed everywhere. In my office right now, there are four screens within five feet of me but only one of them is on. I swear! In my mind, the thing that should change is the value of digital video advertising, and I think it will. There’s a death grip on legacy advertising formats. Pre-roll has been a part of the equation for some time, but obviously, there are a number of other platforms—particularly on the social side of things—that are emerging faster than ad formats can be created. But that’s the way it works. Monetization will come eventually, so we’re focusing on creating great programming to accentuate each platform and on building an audience—the fun stuff.

Why is it critical for brands to implement immersive VR experiences in their current marketing campaigns?

Krefman: You can start making content and learning about it now, or you can wait and run the risk of falling behind because it’s not going away.