Looking to be the “Netflix” of virtual reality, NextVR has been making its mark with a series of high-profile partnerships across industries. Backed with $30.5 million in Series A funding from Comcast and Time Warner, the VR production company and its investors have their sights on leading the "future of TV" charge.
Within the past year, NextVR has secured partnerships with Live Nation, Fox Sports, and Time Inc. The company also teamed up with CNN to broadcast the Democratic presidential debate in September, as well as with Samsung to release a broadcast-quality stream of Coldplay's Ghost Stories concert. The genre that may do the most to advance VR's acceptance into the mainstream is sports, and NextVR, with the NBA and Turner Sports, streamed a game last October between the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans.
For more on VR, when it will go mainstream, and its unique production challenges, we spoke with David Cramer, EVP, Corporate Strategy, NextVR:
Found Remote: Is 2016 the year that VR goes mainstream?
David Cramer: In all our years of business experience, we’ve never seen the reception or interest towards a technology that intersects so many different industries. The leading entertainment and consumer brands are all interested in virtual reality. There has been incredible momentum within the last year and interest in virtual reality is only escalating. NextVR will continue to explore strategic opportunities to deliver the ultimate, live virtual reality experience. In the next two years there will be incredible growth in the adoption of virtual reality. As new flagship mobile phones add chipsets and other components built specifically for viewing virtual reality, which is already happening and the NextVR platform is launched on all VR platforms, we will see adoption take off.
FR: Some of NextVR's most high-profile partnerships have been with the NBA, NASCAR, NFL, and Live Nation. VR is a transformative experience for viewers of any content, but why are sports and music in VR even more special?
Cramer: NextVR stands alone in its ability to deliver fans an experience that is the next best thing to being there in person. And with NextVR, that is experience is live. The sports category has a few unique characteristics – it enjoys the world’s largest fan bases and it is the last area of entertainment where “being live” matters. Live concerts have not traditionally been consumed via digital media – but NextVR and Live Nation are changing that by giving music fans the ability to experience their favorite artists in an entirely new way.
FR: What separates NextVR from competitors in the space?
Cramer: NextVR is far above the competition in our ability to transmit long-form live virtual reality content at broadcast quality. At NAB, NextVR announced the first ever virtual reality production truck built from the ground up and designed to be ‘plug and play’. The truck is enabling us to pull up to any venue and immediately deliver a multi-camera, live stereoscopic virtual reality experience with fully mixed 3D virtual reality audio. In the next two years we will see incredible growth in the adoption of virtual reality. This is only the beginning of the beginning for virtual reality.
FR: What are some of the unique challenges of shooting and transmitting VR live?
Cramer: When shooting virtual reality, quality is one of the most important aspects to consider because the audience experiences the content as if they are virtually there—sitting court side, in pit row, or on stage at a concert. Quality to the audience means that the content is believable, comfortable, and transfers the emotional value of the experience. For example, the basketball player in front of you feels as though he is 7 ft. tall and 10 ft. away from where you are. In long-form virtual reality, quality is critical to reducing eye strain and providing a comfortable experience over the length of a sports game or concert.
The NextVR broadcast platform, with more than 26 patents granted or pending, was built to ensure a continuous, high-quality live stream. Our technology captures the geometry of the environment (a race track or basketball court) around the camera and then maps the video to the 3D mesh that is created. This patented process recreates incredibly realistic content that doesn’t require any stitching, differentiating NextVR’s quality of experience.
As the technology and medium of virtual reality continues to develop, there will be more content creators and distribution platforms. The quality of experience will continue to be an important differentiator in delivering compelling and comfortable experiences to a global audience.
FR: Do you believe that VR can adequately replace experiencing things like sporting events and concerts in the flesh?
Cramer: It’s not necessarily about replacing the experience, but providing a new, immersive experience. Virtual reality at home is a separate but complementary experience to live events. It will offer a glimpse of what it is like to be there, to be immersed in the excitement, and be a real companion to what is happening at live events but it doesn't replace being there or the energy you get from being around everyone else. The availability of a premium sporting event experience as if you are virtually there opens up the ultimate fan experience to a global audience. A basketball arena may hold 18,000 fans, but how many of them will be able to experience the courtside seat? Given the global appeal of sports such as basketball and soccer, how many of their fans from around the world would love to see their favorite players in action as if they are sitting 10 feet away from them? NextVR’s technology in enabling these experiences for fans, wherever they are.
FR: What are some of the hesitations of legacy companies seeking to jump into VR?
Cramer: We spend a great deal of time with our partners in product development, helping them understand exactly what benefit is delivered to their fans by creating VR experiences in connection with their content. We see far more companies that are eager to jump into VR than those who are hesitant or who don’t believe in the category.
FR: How do you think scripted TV series will evolve for VR?
Cramer: NextVR focuses on live-action virtual reality content that is experienced in real-time through any virtual reality headset. However, our technology advantages are equally applicable to scripted or episodic VR content. We look forward to being a leader in the industry in determining how the episodic virtual reality landscape evolves and develops over the coming years. We expect that this VR genre will take longer to develop and will lag behind live VR video consumption.