Joanna Popper, who recently became HP's Global Head for Virtual Reality Location-Based Entertainment, has been named one of "50 Women Who Can Change the World in Media and Entertainment" as well as one of "101 Women Leading the VR Industry." With experience in TV, Digital, Film and VR/AR and past leadership positions at Singularity University and NBC Universal, Joanna has advised immersive computing and digital media companies focused on VR gaming, holograms, haptic touch and video engagement. In addition, she is on the Coalition for the WXR Fund. I sent over some interview questions to Joanna--read her responses below and hear her speak at the upcoming Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara!
Emily: To begin, could you provide a little background on yourself and your career? What does your new job as Global Head of Virtual Reality Based Entertainment at HP entail and what was your first encounter with VR/AR?
Joanna: I’ve worked in investment banking and strategy consulting but most of my career I’ve focused on media and entertainment and tech, and that’s where my true passion lies. In my role as Global Head of Virtual Reality for Location Based Entertainment at HP, I am leading our strategy to grow out this business and market. It is incredibly exciting to be part of such a nascent business and have the opportunity to help shape it by partnering with leading location-based entertainment operators and content creators.
Emily: How is HP approaching Virtual Reality? What is the company’s VR strategy? What kinds of projects are you working on?
Joanna: We are focused on commercial VR and being a trusted partner to companies designing, creating and experiencing VR. Our industry focus sectors are: Location Based Entertainment; Architecture, Engineering and Construction; Military Training Simulation & Education; and Healthcare. I am partnering with location-based entertainment operators and content creators.
Emily: What is holding VR back in entertainment? What are the challenges the companies you advise are facing? That HP is facing?
Joanna: There are 5-6 areas that must advance to hit mass consumer adoption:
--technological advances that great talent at companies like HP and others are working hard on tackling
--content creators to build the brand defining hit or killer app
--location-based entertainment venues proliferation so consumers can have that amazing VR experience
--social and collaboration platforms to keep advancing and improving
--marketing and consumer education to move from early adopter tech mode focused on the cool tech to focusing on the amazing experiences and the Why. And, also, to find consistent, compelling consumer-facing ways to talk about XR instead of the alphabet soup we have today (VR, AR, MR, XR)
Emily: "Video killed the radio star" (and the internet killed the video star). How will Virtual Reality change the entertainment industry? Will VR/AR kill any types of entertainment media?
Joanna: That’s not really true. Film, TV, radio and digital stars all happily coexist today in a somewhat incremental way. We have music streaming which is essentially radio on digital as the distribution platform. Anything that we use the internet for today plus much more that we haven’t realized yet will be experienced through immersive media in the future. But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be room for lean-back media even in the immersive media if that is what audiences want in that specific time and moment.
Emily: Is there one area (media, retail, sports, journalism, education, etc.) that you are most passionate about when it comes to the future of VR?
Joanna: I am passionate about media and entertainment as I believe that media has the power to shape our reality, perspectives, view of the world, and even view of ourselves. I am also incredibly excited about the democratization of education and healthcare that ideally becomes possible with VR, as well.
Emily: How did you get from Hollywood to Silicon Valley?
Joanna: I worked at NBCUniversal for a long time and loved my time there. In that role, I was most fascinated by two things: 1-content creation and storytelling 2-the fast pace of the changing digital landscape which impacted how we marketed and distributed our content and how consumers watched our content. I was called by an exec search firm and ended up intrigued and in Silicon Valley a short time later
Emily: What does the Women in Tech movement mean to you as a woman who has worked in two industries now under fire for their histories/cultures of gender discrimination? Do you have any advice for girls looking to break into the XR/emerging tech space?
Joanna: Wow— great question. The women in tech movement is so important. There is data that companies with diverse and inclusive leadership and work forces have better stock market returns, financial returns and products. Leaving out large portions of the work force leaves great talent behind and is fundamentally bad for business.
Advice to women looking to get into XR/ emerging tech space: this area is growing so fast and there are so many great opportunities across all job functions: engineering, product management, project management, business development, finance, marketing, HR, etc Get in the door and build the business together.
Join the Women in VR/AR Facebook pages. Follow the work WXR is doing. Listen to podcasts on the industry. Attend events— this is an incredibly social industry. Connect with other women and men in the space. Find mentors. Stick with it— emerging technology has ups and downs but it is worth it. If you see something that isn’t right, take the appropriate actions. This is when we build cultures and let’s build an inclusive one.