As studios look for fresh ancillary revenue streams for films, virtual reality may prove to be an easier means of making money with exhibition than any controversial premium VOD window.
This morning, Imax and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment announced a new virtual reality co-financing and production agreement to develop and release three premium, interactive VR experiences based on some of the Burbank, CA studio’s upcoming tentpoles including Justice League (opening Nov. 17), Aquaman (Dec. 21) and a third untitled experience. One experience will be released per year, beginning with Justice League VR which will debut during the late 4Q.
The WB titles will debut in an exclusive window in Imax VR centres before being made available to other VR platforms, including in-home and mobile devices. At the beginning of the year, Imax threw the doors open to its first VR Centre across from the Grove in Los Angeles. On average VR experiences go for $10 or $1/minute. To date, the venue has clocked 15K admissions with five more centres in New York, California, the UK and Shanghai opening this year. Largely the centers attract millennials, with the average estimated time spent at the venue being one hour. Essentially the Imax VR centres vie to cater to that demo which doesn’t break their piggy banks for expensive in-home VR equipment. Some of these new Imax VR venues will be located inside Regal and AMC multiplexes.
Analysts have made huge forecasts on VR’s explosion. Deloitte Global estimates that VR chalked up $1 billion last year with a third of that coming from content revenue such as games. Others predict that inclusive of hardware and content, VR could mushroom to a $162B global industry by 2020 by International Data Corporation.
“It’s fitting that with Imax and Warner Bros.’ shared history of launching Hollywood movies in Imax theatres, today we’re entering into our first studio deal to bring original VR content to the multiplex,” said Imax Corp. CEO Richard L. Gelfond in a statement. “A key component of our vision for VR is to help usher in the first wave of high-end blockbuster-based content. Justice League and Aquaman feature some of the most beloved characters on the planet, providing iconic properties to launch this effort. This type of premium content will introduce audiences to virtual reality in standalone and multiplex-based Imax VR centres as well as other platforms.”
“We are excited to be partnering with Imax to develop and deliver premium VR experiences, and believe that capitalizing on Justice League and Aquaman characters from our well-known DC properties will broaden the appeal of this fast growing technology,” added Ron Sanders, President, Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment Distribution. “Using content and characters from these upcoming films and incorporating creative direction from some of Hollywood’s most innovative filmmakers will help us to bring a groundbreaking experience to audiences and consumers who are hungry for a cutting-edge virtual reality experience.”
VR experiences available at the LA-based Imax VR centre include Skydance’s first two VR projects, Archangel, a story-driven shooter experience, and Life VR, based on the Ryan Reynolds-Jake Gyllenhaal film in addition to Sony’s The Walk and ILMxLab’s Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine. Also pilot Imax VR centers will soon feature Ubisoft’s Rabbids VR-Ride, Eagle Flight and upcoming Star Trek: Bridge Crew.
Imax has been betting big on the future of VR. At the end of 2016, they formed the Imax VR fund which sought to create 25 VR experiences over the next three years targeting event style productions. In addition, Imax has been co-developing a VR camera with Google which is scheduled to be completed next year. The large format exhibitor also recently teamed with Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, MGM, Westfield, Bold Capital Partners and Steven Spielberg who are the first-round investors in VR developer Dreamscape Immersive. Plans are to launch a VR multiplex in the fall at Westfield’s Century City Mall in Los Angeles.