Today, I'm going out on a limb to suggest that, in 10 years, Facebook may earn the majority of its revenue from virtual-reality (VR) applications. If this prediction turns out to be correct, I believe the company's revenue will grow much faster than most analysts expect and the stock will give investors shockingly good upside. I'm already long the stock, and it's a significant component of my Strategy Lab model portfolio. And yet … I'm probably going to buy more.
Facebook is heavily investing in VR. They acquired the industry leader, a company called Oculus VR, for about $2-billion (U.S.) in March, 2014. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, at the time, "They build virtual reality technology, like the Oculus Rift headset. When you put it on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away. The incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you're actually present in another place with other people. People who try it say it's different from anything they've ever experienced in their lives."
In my humble opinion, this statement is completely accurate. But the Oculus Rift headset will cost about $300 and it will surely be a niche product. Owners will also need a PC worth $1,000 to provide the processing horsepower required. So why am I so optimistic? Because Oculus technology is now available in a $99 headset that connects to a standard smartphone.
Samsung announced the new GearVR $99 headset last week at the Oculus Connect developers' conference. Netflix has already released its entire catalogue of content to work with this Samsung headset, meaning customers can watch movies and feel as if they're sitting inside a theatre looking at a gigantic screen.
In the early days of VR, I don't think Facebook will generate much revenue. But over time, and as consumers become aware of just how incredible the experience is, I expect Facebook to emerge as the dominant leader because they'll be able to build VR experiences into all their social services including video, gaming, groups and whatever else I'm not nearly creative enough to predict. VR may just be another type of user experience, but it will completely change the way content is created and opens the door for Facebook to become directly involved in either creating or selling this new content to its billions of users.
Only a small percentage of the market is going to be willing to invest well over $1,000 in achieving the full quality VR experience the Oculus Rift enables. But I think the $99 GearVR from Samsung gives this technology mass-market appeal. If you've ever found yourself mindlessly surfing YouTube videos, imagine how interesting it will become when you have Facebook and YouTube publishers producing immersive 360-degree videos.
I expect Samsung's GearVR will inevitably force Apple to build even higher-resolution iPhones and launch their own VR headset. Apple customers aren't going to be very pleased if they're left out of all the fun their Samsung-owner friends are having. I suspect GoPro will sell a lot more of its action cameras for use in producing 360-degree videos. The market for drones will continue to grow as people use them to capture incredible footage that is best enjoyed through a VR headset.
In short, I believe the VR experience is so compelling it will grow like an out-of-control virus over the next few years. Consumers will very quickly understand that the best way to view video is in a VR environment. Watching something on a boring old 2-D screen (no matter how big) just won't cut it any more.
And if I'm right, Facebook will be there leading the industry. It stands a solid chance at being the most successful company to monetize VR applications because of its vast user base.