EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures has just created another platform — or maybe even a new distribution window — to display its feature content.
The studio, in partnership with Bigscreen, is collaborating with several tech companies leading efforts in the virtual reality space — Oculus, Samsung, HTC and Microsoft, among others — to launch a first VR movie theater. A viewer puts on a VR headset and sits in a “theater” in front of a huge screen watching a movie as you would in a brick-and-mortar theater.
On December 3, those consumers with any brand of VR headset can sign on to bigscreenvr.com and experience Top Gun 3D in what looks like a movie theater. Yes, you walk into a movie theater, complete with one-sheets and a theater seating. It will even have trailers prior to the main film. In addition, moviegoers will be seated in a virtual audience and can chat before the movie starts to everyone next to them or watching with them.
Then, for the next 24 hours and in 30-minute increments, VR headset users will be able watch Top Gun in 3D for free (Top Gun 3D is available now on Blu-ray). “This is a good example of what happens when you collaborate with Silicon Valley,” noted Tom Hayes, SVP New Media at Paramount.
What Paramount is doing is, well, actually brilliant in that the trial obviously has much larger implications for the industry if successful.
Hayes first came across Bigscreen a year ago when it was “an enterprise productivity tool.” However, after he looked at what they were doing, he said to himself, “That’s a movie theater.” So six months ago, they began, in earnest, to develop a virtual movie theater. “It launches a possible new platform for the film business,” Hayes said. “Obviously, you can add all sorts of bonus content with the filmmakers Q&A, games, trivia, for example, afterwards. There’s no limit to what we can do.”
Hayes told Deadline the studio wanted to “start the conversation. Paramount wants to be where the consumers are and the media landscape is changing and we want to be as vanguard as possible. We have to make the theaters a bigger and better experience. Jim G [Paramount chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos] is a progressive thinker, and we want to get out front and see where audiences want to go. There is quite a cultural difference between high-tech and Hollywood. Here we are testing something that is a page turner in the history of media.”
For years, the industry has been grappling with the closing of theatrical windows and the threat to exhibition. VR is still in its infancy, but this shows other options to The Screening Room and other premium video-on-demand systems by virtually bringing movies directly into the home — this one via a big-screen experience.
Also, Gianopulos has been hinting for a while that PVOD was “inevitable” in “a period of months, not years” as consumers are demanding a change. Viewing habits clearly have changed as well. He said in September during an investor call that if the PVOD terms resulted in a big cut in exhibition sales, studios would “obviously” provide them with “an enhanced revenue stream” incorporating cash from home viewing.
Paramount has several films scheduled to come after this starting in 2018. One possibility is Terminator 3D, though nothing is set in stone. Obviously, the studio is using older films to help market upcoming reboots, but the writing is on the wall for where this all could go.
So, is this a new window or a new platform? Looks like both.