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Banking on Virtual Reality

The market for virtual reality content and technology may be young, but investors seem to be increasingly optimistic that the market will mature into a money-maker.

Jaunt, a startup that has developed VR cameras and a cloud-powered platform to distribute VR content, landed a $65 million “C” round that pushed its total funding past $100 million. Backers include media giants and well-recognized names such as The Walt Disney Co., The Madison Square Garden Co. and Sky, as well as European powerhouses ProSiebenSat.1 and Axel Springer.

Jaunt will now look to scale up its operations and be ready for the expected VR consumer explosion.

Next TV editor Jeff Baumgartner spoke with Jaunt CEO and co-founder Jens Christensen about the status and future of the VR market. An edited transcript follows.

NTV:Can you offer a little more color on the plans going forward, now that you’ve closed the new round?

Jens Christensen: We made a conscious decision when we did this round of funding that it would be a strategic round. It wasn’t just about the investment, per se, but also about the investors themselves and how they can be strategic to Jaunt going forward.

The whole idea with this round is to allow us to scale up content creation to deliver VR experiences to the end users that will be coming online. And we’ll see the releases of the major headsets — from HTC Vive to the Oculus consumer version one to PlayStation VR. All of these things are going to introduce a whole new generation of people to VR, and we want to be there with content for them as you get your headset, whether that’s a mobile headset or dedicated headset.

NTV:Can you talk a bit more about your platform? A lot of focus has been on your cameras, but what about the larger workflow associated with VR?

JC: What we did in order to scale up content creation is we’ve created this end-to-end pipeline, all the way from the hardware. We have the Jaunt One camera, that used to be code-named Neo, that is really the most advanced way of capturing live action VR. We have a workflow, as you put it, up in the cloud … and using our computational photography software, you create these VR experiences. Then you format them for particular platforms, whether it’s mobile, like Android or Samsung Gear VR, or dedicated, like Oculus, and you push that out to the user community. Unlike other earlier companies, like Hulu or Netflix or HBO, they can go out and license existing entertainment content, whereas that doesn’t exist in VR. It literally needs to be created from scratch.

NTV:How much VR content are you producing these days, and how do you expect to ramp that up?

JC: I think we’ve released around 20 VR experiences so far. With this new round of funding, we’ll be able to rapidly accelerate the release of [VR content] in the months ahead. We’ve recorded a ton more and we have a lot more experiences in the can that are ready to go when the timing is right.

NTV:How is this content getting distributed?

JC: The primary way you’ll experience Jaunt content is through the Jaunt app that you download … for the iPhone today, through the App Store, or [via] Google Play as well. There are other platforms on which to distribute content and we expect to release on those platforms as well, even the 360 platforms that you have with YouTube 360. But the primary place we want people to experience Jaunt content is from within the Jaunt app.

NTV:Will that app extend to the higher-end platforms that you’ve talked about, like Oculus Rift, as well as YouTube and maybe Google Cardboard?

JC: We’re device-agnostic. In an ideal world, we would support all of the platforms. We’re very excited about mobile, like the Google Cardboard environment, because there’s such a great fi t between cinematic VR and mobile. Once we’ve finished our processing in the pipeline in the cloud, we have generated a special-purpose video fi le that can play on smartphones.

NTV:For VR, are there some specific genres that are most popular? Is it mostly experiential or do you see storytelling entering the mix yet?

JC: We’re seeing a lot of interest in several genres. One is music, which is so well-suited for cinematic VR in that a lot of the experiences tend to be short-form — three minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes. It’s great for music because you can establish this emotional connection with the viewer through music very quickly like with the Paul McCartney piece we did that’s very popular.

Another popular area is adventure/travel. We did another piece with The North Face where you’re climbing up into Moab and Yosemite and you’re watching BASE jumpers literally jump off cliffs. You feel like you’re actually right there with them.

An area we’re excited about moving forward is storytelling. We recently brought on Cliff Plumer [formerly CEO of Digital Domain and CTO of Lucas fi lm and Industrial Light & Magic] to run Jaunt Studios down in L.A.

NTV:If you had to make a prediction, when do you expect VR to go mainstream?

JC: There will be all of these headsets that will come online starting here in Q4 — HTC Vive, Facebook Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR, etc. One of the keys in terms of taking that and making it truly mainstream, we believe, is actually content. It’s not enough to have the technology in a headset. You obviously need to have something to provide an experience in those headsets.

I would say that over the next year, you’re going to see a tremendous adoption of VR, both in terms of headsets and content consumption.