Virtual Reality in Spotlight at UBS Investor Conference

Virtual Reality - H 2015
Illustration by Lars Leetaru

NextVR executive chairman Brad Allen says when Apple launches products, it will be a "tipping point" for the industry.

Virtual reality and Laguna Beach, Calif.-based VR startup NextVR were in the spotlight at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York on Wednesday as executive chairman Brad Allen touted the business and its outlook to the Wall Street crowd.

It was the third appearance at the UBS conference in a row for the startup, known for developing platforms for on-demand coverage of live events to VR headgear.

"Christmas should be the first time" consumers can go out and buy VR headsets as a mass market product, Allen said about the state of the hardware business. "Adoption is not mass market yet."

Current VR goggles are still "awkward" and heavy, but as they start looking more like regular glasses, appeal and usage should increase, he said. "We're on the way there, we're not there yet," he said, adding that should become reality in the next two years.

If and when Apple makes VR or augmented reality devices available, that could also be "the tipping point" for the VR business, Allen argued in discussing hardware trends. "That will really turn it into a mass market," he said. 

"There are smoke signals coming out of Cupertino," Calif., where Apple is based, he added. "They have filed a bunch of patents. They look a little more form factored." Allen said given Apple's music relationships, he expects music, along with sports, could be a key focus for the technology giant.

Asked about timing, he predicted that Apple would as usual wait until it has something it feels has Apple quality. And he suggested the firm could wait until some others have released product and then unveil its offer that "blows everybody away." 

Content strategy was also in focus Wednesday. "We're focused on sports and music," Allen said when asked about NextVR's approach. "Those are things that happen every day" and have millions of "passionate fans," plus, people are used to paying for this sort of content, he explained.

Allen said, though, that there is a need for more VR content to be produced by more companies to feed the growing interest, and he highlighted that the studios are among those working on projects.  

Asked how VR content will get distributed and what NextVR's role will be, Allen said everyone seems to be looking to go direct to consumers, but it will be interesting to see how things develop. "We're a distribution platform," he said, highlighting that within its offer there are apps for the NBA and various other brands.

Allen acknowledged that "one of the big knocks" against VR is the lack of social involvement. But he said the offers are going into a social direction so that friends on different coasts can sit on their sofas at home and watch a sports game together and interact via avatars. "This is clearly going to happen," he said.

In a first-of-its-kind deal, Fox Sports and NextVR entered a five-year partnership aimed at offering live, virtual reality coverage of sporting events, for which Fox Sports holds the broadcast rights, including the Daytona 500. In January, the companies offered Premier Boxing Champions matches in virtual reality.

NextVR also has a content deal with events company Live Nation to show “hundreds” of live musical performances in VR.

China Media Capital, the Shanghai-based investment group led by Chinese media mogul Ruigang Li, this summer took a stake in NextVR as part of a $80 million financing round based on an $800 million valuation.

Softbank and China Assets Holdings were among the other investors that participated in that round. They joined such U.S. investors as Time Warner Ventures and The Madison Square Garden Company.