CES: Samsung Looks to Boost Virtual Reality Ecosystem With Milk VR

Samsung Milk VR - H 2015
Courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Milk VR - H 2015

"If we're going to sell a device, we need to give people a good reason to keep using it," says Samsung exec Matt Apfel about the new Gear VR

Samsung made a splash when it launched the first commercially available virtual reality headset in December. But what will keep consumers interested in the Gear VR? Content, says Matt Apfel, vp strategy and creative content at the electronics company.  

So Samsung is partnering with a number of content creators to produce 360-degree experiences for its new app Milk VR, which it unveiled this week at International CES in Las Vegas. 

Milk VR is an extension of Samsung's line of Milk apps, which began with a curated music tool and recently expanded into short-form video content. But unlike the other apps, which give Samsung a foothold into the already crowded streaming video and music spaces, Milk VR is intended to boost the amount of available content for the emerging virtual reality space.

"If we're going to sell a device, we need to give people a good reason to keep using it," explains Apfel. "If there's no content on Gear VR for days or weeks or months, I think people will stop using it. We don't want that. … That was the thinking behind the organized effort to build a player and go out and source and produce content with world-class partners and build this ecosystem together." 

Milk VR, which is initially working with partners such as the NBA, Red Bull and Refinery29, is meant to provide a curated slate of virtual reality content that updates daily across several categories, including music, sports, experiential videos and scripted content. The app, which is free to download from the Gear VR's Oculus Store, doesn't charge for its content and is currently advertisement-free.

Those capabilities could be added over time, but Samsung is currently focused on producing content that will entice viewers. Many of the VR experiences up to this point have been used for marketing, and while Samsung is working with brands such as Acura and Mountain Dew, Apfel says he's telling those partners to focus on content that tells stories. Samsung is also looking for episodic content, much like the project that David Alpert is working on through his Skybound Studios. The Walking Dead producer took the stage at Samsung's Monday press event to announce that he's creating a mystery thriller that will be released through installments. 

"We believe in VR as an ecosystem and content is what is really going to fill it out," says Apfel. "You get storytellers, you get brands, you get IP owners that are out there making content, and that's what makes this an ecosystem."

Samsung is not alone in its pursuit for more VR content. Startup Jaunt believes that Hollywood and the music business will be important in the growth of the virtual reality market and has worked with entertainment clients to create experiences. The Gear VR Oculus Store features a range of content available for download. Apfel says that it's all a positive for the emerging industry. 

"I love to see that there are companies out there thinking about different ways to experience this content," he admits. "For us, it just means more people will be interested in it."