By now, most investors know that Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) allocated another $2 billion to acquisitions this week, this time putting virtual reality in its sights with the purchase of Oculus. Analysts are trying to figure out whether the acquisition was a sound one, but forward-thinking investors should look at the opportunities the virtual reality technology could afford in the near future.
Here's the deal
A whopping $2 billion is on the line for the acquisition of Oculus, which has yet to ship a unit of its virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift. Though only $400 million of the total price tag consists of cash, the unproven revenue stream from Oculus has plenty of investors worried. In addition to the initial cash and share payment, benchmarks will be rewarded with incentives, if met down the line.
More than a game
So far, the Oculus team has sent out 75,000 kits to game developers (at $350 a pop), which is at the top on the list of applications for virtual reality. In fact, Sony (NYSE:SNE) is currently promoting its own virtual reality headset, Project Morpheus, set to work with the PlayStation 4. Game-console rival Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is also reportedly in the development stage for a complementary headset to its Xbox One.
While the Oculus Rift may not be the only player in the gaming landscape, its development outside of a strictly gaming atmosphere lends to its ability to be used in other arenas. Mark Zuckerberg himself nodded to the use of virtual reality within various spheres, while explaining the reasoning behind the acquisition:
After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home. ... One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.
This openness to additional uses for the Oculus Rift is exactly where Facebook could really exploit the technology.
While direct sales of the Rift units will be a major factor in Facebook's plan for the device, there's an opportunity for the company to begin a whole new mode of revenue generation -- licensing fees.
With the virtual experience provided by the Rift units, the company could line up universities as clients, with student benefiting from sessions in boardrooms, operation rooms, court rooms, and other theaters where it's difficult to file in a large number of onlookers.
The U.S. military is another big potential client, using virtual reality for training purposes. The University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies (where Oculus lead, Palmer Luckey, worked as a lab technician) has already developed projects that would allow training in urban war zones or Naval battleships. Though the department has its own VR headset and other hardware, Facebook's newly acquired Oculus Rift could prove a worthy replacement.
Of course Facebook will focus heavily on the potential for virtual reality within the social network environment. But by allowing the technology's use within other fields, any potential revenue sources will provide a buffer for the company while it determines the best use for the Rift in conjunction with its social network platforms.
Looking for potential
While the exact use of the Oculus Rift is still open for debate, it's clear that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg made the decision to purchase the virtual reality start-up for its potential to disrupt several markets. Investors may still be scratching their heads about the acquisition, but with the potential for multiple uses (and multiple revenue streams), Facebook's latest purchase may be its best yet.