As Virtual Reality Evolves, Firms Seek Well-Produced Content

The Martian VR Experience H - 2016
Courtesy of Fox

Well-produced content is “desperately needed” to help virtual reality take off. 

That's the sentiment from Cliff Plumer, president of virtual reality firm Jaunt Studios and an alum of Lucasfilm, speaking Monday on a panel at CES in Las Vegas. "A lot of good technology is being developed. … But there’s a lot of bad virtual reality [content] out there," the exec explained. 

The panel at the standing-room only session agreed that VR is just getting started, but next steps are needed to forward the medium.

As CES got underway, there was already a flurry of related announcements, notably Oculus began taking pre-orders for its Rift VR headsets, 21st Century Fox announced an agreement to make a minority investment in VR and augmented reality firm Osterhout Design Group and 20th Century Fox debuted its The Martian VR Experience.

“We’d been showing VR to everyone from movie stars to execs, and during that time we saw investments in VR," said David Greenbaum, executive vp production at Fox Searchlight Pictures and one of the directors of the Fox Innovation Lab that co-produced The Martian VR project. "We thought we were just doing R&D, but now people want to buy it. We are investing time and energy in making the best stuff and getting it out there."

Noting that both established filmmakers and new filmmakers are experimenting with VR production, Greenbaum opined that VR could help to identify “a new generation of filmmakers, and its our responsibility to support them and find the Tarantinos of VR.”

But this won’t happen overnight. “It’s probably going to be 2017 before VR content is something you can monetize,” said Eric Shamlin, managing director and executive producer at content studio Secret Location. “We have a horror franchise developing, a few games — we want to be in the first wave, but you have to have a longer-term view. We are eager for this market to launch, but we’re optimistic and cautious.”

A big question is how to distribute and charge for this content. “I think people see it as a level playing field, where they will not necessarily be forced into ad-supported or paid or subscription models," said Matt Apfel, vp strategy and creative content at Samsung. "[But we needed content creators] who will build the experiences that people will feel are worth, say, $5 or $10 an episode.”

Looking ahead to further technology development, director and VR content creator Samir Mallal believes VR will become more social. "I think there will be ways to share a VR experience, the way we share a film experience, whether that’s with avatars or shared cinema,” he said.

Oren Rosenbaum, digital media agent at UTA, moderated the conversation.