Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says virtual reality isn't a priority for the streaming service at the moment. Why? Because you just can't binge-watch in VR.
Speaking to VentureBeat, Hastings said that virtual reality would likely have a "big impact" on gaming, but that when it comes to watching content, the medium is too involving. "You’re exhausted after 20 minutes," Hastings told the publication. "We are more focused on a lean-back, relaxing experience." Netflix's chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, added, "I can’t imagine putting on a VR headset while sitting on the couch with my wife for two hours and just disappearing."
"I can’t imagine putting on a VR headset while sitting on the couch."
Sarandos also noted another big reason for staying away from VR: the potential market isn't big enough to justify the investment. Google Cardboard headsets may be finding their way to viewers one way or another, but fully fledged devices like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive remain very niche.
For these reasons, perhaps, Netflix's presence on these platforms is also minimal — the company has an app for Samsung's Gear VR, but it's a pretty basic virtual living room. Making a virtual flatscreen TV presumably didn't take that much effort, but the next step would be to buy actual 360-degree content, but most of this is short and uneven at best.
Hastings' view on binge-watching in VR is probably correct, though. In our reviews of the major VR headsets we noted that both were pretty tiring to use for long periods of time, and the if the content itself is not immersive, why put in extra effort to watch it in VR? And as soon as you can move about in a virtual film, isn't that blurring the boundaries between film and video games? It'll be an interesting space to explore in the future — but Netflix sounds like it's more concerned with the here and now.