Imax Secures $50 Million to Create 25 VR Projects

Richard Gelfond
Allison Michael Orenstein

“It’s difficult to get people off the couch, yet Imax is one of the most successful companies at providing experiences that people run to,” says Gelfond, photographed April 28 in his New York office.

The giant-screen exhibitor, led by CEO Richard Gelfond, has launched pilot virtual reality centers, with strategic investors in its fund including CAA, WPP and Chinese companies.

Imax on Thursday said it has raised $50 million for a virtual reality fund, working with strategic investors to create at least 25 interactive VR content "experiences" over the next three years for the local mall and multiplex.

The giant-screen exhibitor is already working with tech developer Starbreeze on its VR content, using the Swedish company's headsets and games. VR content will eventually come from Hollywood filmmakers using a camera that Imax is building with Google.

The company also is in advanced talks with Hollywood studios, gaming publishers and others about developing VR content. Imax has now revealed that strategic investors in the $50 million VR fund include hardware maker CAA; Acer; China Media Capital; China's Enlight Media; Studio City, an investment company active in China; and WPP, the advertising and marketing services giant.

Imax said its VR product will roll out across all VR platforms and at previously announced Imax VR centers. "We will be leveraging our collective relationships with world-class filmmakers and content creators to fund VR experiences that excite and attract a larger user base to capitalize on opportunities across all VR platforms including Imax VR," Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said in a statement.

The first pilot VR centers are planned for Los Angeles and at Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group's Printworks multiplex location in Manchester, England. Imax also plans additional test facilities to open in the U.S., China, Japan, the Middle East and Western Europe in the coming months.

Imax expects that the VR experiences, typically lasting around 10 minutes, will cost between $7 and $10 and that VR content developed will be tied to film franchises. The company also expects to follow its screen tech business model, licensing the VR equipment to theater operators and malls and then taking a percentage of the revenue.