Is Virtual Reality The Next Step In Survival Television?

The end of summer is near, which marks the beginning of television season. Many season premieres and new shows debut throughout September across a wide variety of networks and genres.

Perhaps one of the less popular, but interesting genres is survival television. Which begs the question — what exactly is survival television?

Popular on many outdoor networks like OLN, Discovery and the Science channel, survival television shows are built on the premise of one or more people that find themselves out in the wilderness and attempt to survive.

Survival TV can actually be broken down into two major categories — reality and documentary. The former represents shows like Survivor, Naked and Afraid, Mantracker and Buried Alive, while the latter represent shows like Man vs. Wild and Canadian-born Survivorman.

All of these shows encompass relatively the same elements — they showcase an individual (or group of individuals) thrown into the woods and given a specific task or goal to achieve within a time frame. You’re probably thinking “yeah, most of these shows are fake anyway.” And you’re not wrong. The fact is, most of them are scripted, staged and fabricated to maximize entertainment level. But for the purpose of this post, we’ll be uncovering what the future for this style of show could be, not how real they truly are.

I recently watched a Periscope session from Les Stroud, or as many know him as, Survivorman. I’ve personally been a fan of his for years and would argue that he produces some of the most real, organic survival experiences on TV today. His documentary, film-it-yourself style proves that he really is alone in some of the most dangerous and remote locations on the planet.

During the session, Stroud was in the middle of the Mongolian wilderness filming an episode of his show with his son. He mentioned that there was a camera crew elsewhere in the country experimenting with capturing wilderness footage using virtual reality cameras. The crew generally captures b-roll of the local surroundings to compliment Stroud’s footage, but this time was a little different, as he wasn’t quite sure how they planned to use the footage in the future.

This kick started an interesting thought for me as I had seen footage of sunrises/sets, the northern lights and other visually impressive experiences filmed on virtual reality cameras before. I started to wonder, could television survival shows be the perfect segway for regular televised virtual reality experiences?

If you think about it, it’s not that crazy. Many of these experiences often create mentalities with viewers wishing they could be there to see what it’s like, or at least see what the other person is seeing. Outside of the obvious obstacles — size of equipment and feasibility — virtual reality in the wilderness intrigues me. If the technology existed, a virtual reality broadcast of the outside world could present new avenues for viewer engagement, just like this 360 degree video:

To be entirely transparent, I’m not suggesting we’re that close to flawless virtual reality content, nor am I suggesting cable TV is the right avenue for it. In fact, it’s more than likely that virtual reality experience will find better success online as it gives viewers the freedom to take as long as they’d like exploring every area before moving forward.

As a big fan of survival TV myself, I think the genre could be responsible for many of today’s production trends. Take the selfie, for example, which first became a staple in regular TV broadcasts when Stroud created camera mounts to film himself walking through the woods. Sure, he may not have been the first to do it, but for arguments sake, he certainly deserves some recognition, as selfie mounts are now an industry standard in both reality and documentary style productions.

From our perspective, the future of virtual reality is still cloudy. However, survival TV could offer virtual reality the avenue it needs to begin to become a staple in households throughout the world. Tell us what you think in the comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter and tag @Signature_video.

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