5:00am PT by Georg Szalai
European Pay TV Giant Sky Unveils Virtual Reality Production Unit, Content Initiative
Pan-European pay TV giant Sky on Thursday unveiled the launch of a virtual reality production unit and a major commitment to VR content.
To step up the production of VR content across all its European markets, the newly launched Sky VR Studio, a dedicated in-house VR production unit, will help the company offer more than 20 VR productions this year. The focus is on sports, news, entertainment and the arts.
The first pieces of fully immersive VR content to be produced by the unit will be released on Friday. They are two films shot during Formula 1 testing in Barcelona. They will be made available via the Facebook 360 Video and the Oculus platforms and viewable on the Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift headsets. Later in the year, Sky will look to distribute content through a dedicated Sky VR app.
Over the coming year, Sky VR Studio will produce more than 20 VR films, including on boxing, Tour de France and a VR episode DC Fancast, the Sky 1 network’s fan show for The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.
Sky on Thursday promised the "creation of immersive experiences that will put the viewer right at the heart of the action," adding: "Over the coming months, Sky will transport fans of sports, movies, news and entertainment to locations around the world, offering a truly unique perspective on major events.
The Sky VR Studio team is led by executive producer Neil Graham and also includes VR director Richard Nockles, who helmed the Formula 1 content and is behind a range of VR projects for a number of global brands.
Sky has been building its expertise in VR for a number of years. In 2013, the company invested in Jaunt, a U.S.-based company pioneering cinematic virtual reality. Recently, Sky News has produced "360" videos, taking viewers to the center of the migrant crisis with footage from the refugee landing beach on the Greek island of Lesbos and the refugee camp in Calais. Sky Movies also utilized the technology at the recent premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens to give a unique view of the red carpet.
“The Sky VR Studio allows us to add a new dimension to storytelling, taking viewers to extraordinary places and offering a unique perspective on a whole host of events," said Gary Davey, managing director, content at Sky. "The development of VR technology is moving at an incredible pace and excitement is building about its potential. Our expertise across a wide range of video content, from original drama to live sport, gives us a unique ability to bring VR to life for customers. This is just the start and we’re looking forward to creating more amazing VR content and exploring the possibilities with our tech and content partners.”
“This is the very early exploration of our venture into VR,” said Graham, explaining that the development of more and more cameras, headsets and distribution platforms make this a good time to start pushing into VR content.
He cited the “real emotional engagement” that well-produced VR content can provide as reasons for his confidence in the technology and its appeal. Graham also said Sky plans in the future to use VR to take fans to the sets of Hollywood movies, but didn’t immediately have a first major film-related content project to announce.