With the Digital Out-of-Home entertainment (DOE) applications of virtual reality (VR) gaining momentum, along with the announcement of more VR arcades scheduled to open, developments in the serious business opportunities for VR have started to galvanize. In this two-part feature, industry specialist Kevin Williams looks at the continuing impact that the movie business aligned with prominent intellectual properties (IP) have in steer new commercial entertainment VR business.
The movie theater business is an industry that has started to play a crucial role in shaping the penetration of commercial entertainment VR systems. Beyond the more pedestrian approach of taking existing VR consumer content and representing it for commercial (pay-to-play) utilisation. Or the rarefied atmosphere of multi-million dollar contracts to create super-charged theme park attractions. The multiplex lobby has become the new crucible for the VR innovation
The film industry, and especially the movie theatre owners have started to see a stagnation in ticket sales, and have been active in trying to invigorate the guest experience beyond traditional approaches. What has been called ‘Lobby Entertainment’ has seen serious investment with VR deployed as a promotional and entertainment delivery platform. While the cinema sector has invested in improving the movie going experience, trying to compete with the explosion in immersive technology such as VR and interactive attractions.
The hopes for greater pixel density on future iterations of consumer VR head-sets are placed into stark comparison with the development in the planetarium business with the latest 8K projection systems. Industry leaders such as E&S, presenting their latest ‘True8K’ offering, an 8,000-pixel resolution stated to represent some 50 million unique pixels across their planetarium system. The immersive element of full-dome and planetarium projected experiences, an aspect that conventional VR head-mounted displays have yet to emulate. But even with this, at the recent Immersive Media Entertainment, Research, Science & Arts (IMERSA), a crucial champion of digital experiences for education and entertainment in planetariums, schools, museums and attractions, VR has started to gain traction as a medium in this sector.
The growth in interest was revealed during the National Theater Owner Industry’s annual convention in Las Vegas. CinemaCon 2017 proving a star-studded event for the promotion of the seasons major blockbuster movie releases. But behind the glitter, the cinema owners are faced with the reality to increase the guests dwell time within the movie-going experience, and along with turning to increased investment in the movie watching environment with 4D motion seating and increased presentational medium as seen with the development of the new three-screen panoramic theatrical systems, such as the Barco Escape; but the industry also evaluates new VR based ‘Lobby Entertainment’.
One exhibitor at CinemaCon that was heavily promoting VR was CJ 4DPLEX, the company has been involved in many prominent installations of their 4DX motion effects cinema seating system. Incorporating motion, spritzers and physical effects, combined with VR experiences. Most notably seen dominating the Samsung Gear VR Theater booth at CES. That theater seating approach to VR is part of CJ’s investment into the technology – at CinemaCon the company demonstrated their 4DX VR initiate, that sees the mobile VR (Samsung Gear VR) platform paired with their effects seats solution.
Fighting for the attention of the audience using this new technology has previously seen VR deployed in lobbies as a free-to-experience promotional tool. Taking their effects seat system outside of the theatre, and veteran manufacture MediaMation have launched their ‘MX4D VR Lobby POD’ – the two-rider, mobileVR equipped platform seen to promote the Coco-Cola Company both at IAAPA, CinemaCon and also at the International Cinema Technology Association (ICTA) event – the POD’s targeted for the lobbies of prominent cinema locations, offering an eye-catching and all important experimental marketing tool.
Many cinemas have installed pop-up promotional attractions to showcase coming feature films using VR enclosures, and several developers and producers have also started to get in on the act of presenting “experiential branding”. One such entrant was AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group (RTG) who partnered with Indian based Arka Media Works, to promote the upcoming Baahubali The Conclusion, Indian motion picture. Using their new VR capture camera, (the bb360cc), to create the fully immersive promotional VR experience, called The Sword of Baahubali – shown to movie-goers in lobby based pop-up VR experiences. Something VRFocus reported on late last year.
It is this continuous fight to create the most compelling VR promotion experience to help sell the Summers blockbusters that was represented on and off the show floor – Universal Pictures and IMAX during CinemaCon’17, presented the spectacular The Mummy Zero Gravity Stunt VR Experience. Seeing the installation, a ten-seat, 10-minute VR experience using the Oculus Rift HMD platform and Positron’s ‘Voyager’ full-motion pod seating, incorporating haptic feedback. The free pop-up promotion being installed at selected flagship venues as a major marketing experience to launch a vital property.
IMAX Corporations investment in VR has moved beyond using it as mere Pop-up promotion or ‘Lobby Entertainment’, the company board has invested heavily to develop their own estimations of what is needed create a chain of VR Arcade properties based on their movie experience – seen as a possible companion to the cinema visit, hoping to cement their future movie business. The first IMAX VR “pilot VR center” concept was opened in Los Angeles at the end of 2016, and based on initial reactions (with a reported some 20,000 visitations since the sites opening) has ramped-up development. Their second VR center opening in New York at the end of May, part of the exiting AMC Kips Bay 15 cinema, with a schedule to open additional sites in Manchester, UK, Shanghai and Japan. The concept visualized as an additional revenue component to an established cinema site, a rethinking of the traditional “arcade room” once seen at theaters.
With their movie industry clout, IMAX has been able to establish partnerships with leading movie studios towards creating exclusive content that will populate the high-end VR establishment. IMAX recently announcing an agreement with Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, a co-financing and production agreement to develop and release three premium, interactive VR experiences based in Warner’s upcoming movie properties. The first announced being ‘Justice League VR’ – debuting exclusively at IMAX VR centers, before consideration of a ported to consumer VR hardware. This movie cross-over investment also seen with the StarBreeze Studio developed promotional VR game experience The Mummy Prodigium Strike (running on the wide-field of view StarVR headset), installed in the IMAX VR site as an early access content.
Other major cinema chain operators have started their own moves in this direction – much of the investment seen coming from the vast Chinese cinema sector, the conglomerate Dalian Wanda having developed their Wanda VR concept placing the latest Chinese DOE VR hardware in their own ‘Lobby Entertainment’ presentation. A move that is expected to be replicated across their growing movie theatre empire, building on the 2016 announcement that Odeon and UCI Cinema Group had been acquired by AMC Entertainment group (part of the Dalian Wanda operation) for an estimated $1.2bn.
With the ability to offer the best platform for the promotion of influential movie properties, the industry has turned from the restrictions of a consumer VR release and looked at using the latest immersive entertainment technology to promote their properties. Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, MGM, Westfield, Bold Capital Partners and film giant Steven Spielberg recently revealed as first round investors in the VR developer Dreamscape Immersive with ambitious VR plans to enter the DOE sector with unique virtual attractions. Other new entrants into the VR attraction / IP sector expected to reveal themselves in the coming months.
Come back at the same time next week for part two, continuing this exclusive coverage of the DOE sector.