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Syfy Finds a New Playground in VR

Related: Is Virtual Reality a Live Wire?

Like peanut butter and chocolate, science fiction and virtual reality seem like a perfect pairing, where content and technology can gleefully collide.

The VR market isn’t a perfect place yet, but there’s enough promise there for Syfy to pursue it with a strategy that’s initially centered on promoting some of its hottest shows and opening the door to other forms of complementary content.

Syfy entered the VR game last summer with the release of an app for Google Cardboard that provided some background and promotion ahead of the network debut of space saga The Expanse. It followed in January with a higher-quality version for the Gear VR headset that also offered 3D renderings of The Canterbury and other space vessels featured in the series.

Syfy saw “surprisingly good” pickup for the Gear VR version of the app, Matthew Chiavelli, senior VP of Syfy Digital, said, noting that it helped to introduce The Expanse to consumers who might not have been familiar with the novels by author James S.A. Corey, from which the series was adapted.

Still, VR’s issue now, as it was a year ago, “is getting anything resembling scale,” he stressed. “That remains a hurdle.”

The good news is that the market is growing. For example, Facebook-owned VR company Oculus said recently that more than 1 million people used its Gear VR device in April. Google, meanwhile, is following up Cardboard with Daydream, a higher-end mass-market-focused platform that runs on its Android OS.

While Syfy’s initial VR work around The Expanse was in the marketing/promotional space, the NBCUniversal-owned network is now working on some bigger initiatives around the platform.

Syfy hasn’t revealed details yet, but Chiavelli said the effort will focus on shorter-form, narrative content that is “supplemental to existing shows.”

“We’re conscious about doing things that are appropriate and not just slapping VR on something that may not necessarily warrant it,” he said.

VR also presents a fresh storytelling challenge because the format provides viewers with a 360-degree view.

“It is a pretty fundamental shift in the way you tell a story in film,” Chiavelli said. “It’s an interesting problem to crack. We’re witnessing the birth of a new medium in a lot of ways.”