Manatt Digital Media - June 2015

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

In This Issue:

  • VR—Power, Potential, Risks . . .
  • VR—The Engine of Empathy and Real Social Change
  • Jaunt, VR and the Future of Media and Entertainment
  • River—Accelerating Virtual Reality Start-Ups
  • VNTANA Extends Live Experiences Globally
  • MDM Spotlight Profile

“VR technology will transform every industry over the next decade or two, just as the Internet was nascent twenty years ago but now is ubiquitous.”—The River Manifesto

In MDM’s previous newsletter on Virtual Reality (VR), we covered some of the basics and gave an overview of the VR landscape. Since then, we have continued to immerse ourselves in the space, and engage with and advise some of its foremost leaders. In this month’s newsletter, we share with you insights from these experiences and innovators and from VR’s countless, game-changing applications—from games and media and entertainment to education, travel, healthcare and beyond.

VR—Power, Potential, Risks . . .

Earlier this month, I moderated a VR and augmented reality (AR) panel at the SLUSH Future Brunch, hosted by organizers of Helsinki’s “must know” SLUSH digital media and tech conference held annually in November. My panel included some of the most important thought leaders and innovators in the VR space—Mike Rothenberg of Rothenberg Ventures (in which Manatt Venture Fund is an investor)—Rothenberg runs the first VR accelerator, called River; Danny Gabai of Vice Media, which produces some of the most inspired VR “experiences” to date; Andy Cochrane of Mirada Studios; and Neville Spiteri of WEVR. We covered a lot of ground during the session, including:

1. The state of VR today—and the prospects for the future—with all on the panel predicting mass consumer adoption of tens of millions of VR headsets within a couple of years (MDM completely agrees with that assessment).

2. The fact that available content, rather than “ready for prime-time” hardware, is the bottleneck for such mass adoption right now.

3. The unique power and opportunity for VR not only in the obvious area of storytelling, but also for live events (think of yourself being transported to your favorite music artist’s live event and sitting in the front row—would you pay for that? We would—and just think of the potential of this new revenue stream for the music business); travel (think of being immersed in a foreign land); education (think of the power and potential in the classroom); and empathy and social change (more on that in the expanded article below).

4. Andy Cochrane emphasized that the distinction between VR and AR is blurred—and rather than thinking of those two as being distinct concepts, they together represent simply “immersive and interactive” experiences.

5. Andy also underscored that we should be careful of placing VR experiences into a box like “VR gaming” because VR experiences are entirely different in terms of structure and cannot follow typical games’ branches.

6. Mike Rothenberg, while massively bullish on the overall VR opportunity, also pointed out significant risks associated with VR experiences. Motion sickness is the most discussed right now (but is fast being addressed by the industry). But, less discussed—and significantly problematic—is the sheer overwhelming, and potentially extremely dangerous, immersion into high-intensity contexts. Think of the video game Call of Duty. Imagine the potential post-traumatic stress disorder that could flow from being placed directly into battle and violence with VR. These risks are real—and companies are rising up to address those dangers. Think further of the potential for VR abuse in the hands of those with malevolent intentions. It is for these reasons, that Mike anticipates a need for real regulations in this area.

It was a fascinating discussion cut short only by the need to end the event.

VR—The Engine of Empathy and Real Social Change

MDM recently visited Silicon Valley—and one highlight of that trip was pioneering VR company Jaunt (more on Jaunt in the profile below). Jaunt demonstrated just some of VR’s possibilities. Yes, media and entertainment. Yes, games and adventure. Those are obvious and frequently discussed.

But, perhaps most compelling is VR’s power to transport you to anywhere in the world—and to enable (empower) you to really feel like what it is to be there. To experience.

And, it is that VR teleportation machine that enables the tantalizing prospect of creating mass empathy and real social impact. In other words, VR has the potential to serve as the engine for empathy and mass mobilization.

Case in point—Clouds Over Sidra—the United Nation’s first foray into VR filmmaking for social good. This experience (because it is much more than a film) places you directly in the middle of a Syrian refugee camp—through which you are guided by a 12-year-old refugee girl named Sidra. As you experience a day in her life, no longer is being a refugee in some faraway land merely some abstract concept. Now, via VR, while Sidra’s suffering is not real to you, it does come to life in your mind in a way that is.

And, once it comes to life and becomes more tangible ... virtually . . . real emotions take hold . . . real empathy! . . . with the power and promise of real action to follow. Real change. Real impact to better the lives of Sidra and others around the world.

That is just part of the promise of VR. But, oh, what promise in these early heady days of VR . . .

Jaunt, VR and the Future of Media and Entertainment

On MDM’s recent trip to Jaunt, CEO Jens Christensen first sat me down in the Jaunt demo studio (pictured here to the right),where I sat through and experienced four different demos. First demo: On the stage at a recent Paul McCartney concert (yes, these will sell big time). Second demo: Extreme climbing and parachuting off cliffs in Yosemite and other extreme lands. Third demo: Immersed as a character in a horror movie (complete with a blanket thrown over my head by one of the demons that made my entire body flinch). Fourth demo: A CGI EDM-driven segment.

How do I describe the impact?

I’ll put it this way. I have been in the media and entertainment world for 25 years and have seen many demos, but Jaunt’s demo was unlike any other. It represented the future of media and entertainment. It is no gimmick. And, VR is not just for games anymore. Music, travel, storytelling—all are open to Jaunt and, therefore, to you. The world is now open and fully accessible. That is why blue-chip investors have lined up to invest in this company.

Apart from Jaunt’s eye-popping technology, it is amazing how fast this all happened. Jens previously built and sold several other companies. In the span of two years after his last sale, he joined VC firm Redpoint as an EIR (entrepreneur-in-residence), where he tried on his first Oculus (purchased through Craigslist). That is when he had his epiphany—whereas Oculus was then games-focused, Jens immediately focused on media and entertainment. That is the fundamental difference. Within just a few months (since Jens is a technical magician), he and his partner at Redpoint created their first prototype (pictured below) and now they are on the second prototype (pictured below).

Jaunt’s content is already available—much of it free for now. MDM urges you to check it out—all you need is your phone and Google Cardboard (or something like it that you can pick up for just a few dollars online).

River—Accelerating Virtual Reality Start-Ups

In December 2014, two-year-old fund Rothenberg Ventures first opened its doors to applications for River, its new virtual reality-focused accelerator. The three-month program aims to be the “world’s VR classroom” and offers start-ups $100,000 investments, mentorship by industry veterans, and office space at the Rothenberg Ventures’ 8,000-square-foot space in San Francisco.

The first batch of River start-ups was diverse—focus areas included entertainment, travel and healthcare—and eight out of the thirteen start-ups came from outside the United States. The River start-ups included Vantage.TV, a 180-degree viewing experience for live events, Psious, a platform using immersion therapy to help patients, SDK Lab, industrial training and travel in VR, and Emergent VR, an app to create and share VR experiences through mobile phones.

At the end of the program, all thirteen were showcased at Rothenberg Ventures’ Founder Field Day, an annual event bringing together investors, founders and mentors. River has now committed to a second class in 2015 and is accepting applications through July 2, 2015.

VNTANA Extends Live Experiences Globally

Earlier this year, MDM visited the Santa Monica offices of VNTANA. Tucked away in the rear parking lot of a multiuse space near Bergamot Station, VNTANA enables immersive, multilocation live experiences through high-definition, real-time hologram technology.

I first encountered VNTANA at TedX Venice Beach’s “think small” event on February 22, 2015, where the cofounder, Ashley Crowder, demonstrated the streamlined hardware and inventive software that powers VNTANA. She explained that as a music lover, she first had the idea for VNTANA when she and some friends went out to the Coachella Music Festival during college. A number of her friends could not afford the pricey tickets to attend the live show, and instead contented themselves by watching the streaming content online with headphones—a distant second best to the exhilarating live show experience.

What if we could project the musicians and artists onto a second stage in a remote location to simultaneously perform for a live audience there as well? Crowder, a USC grad with a B.S. in Industrial Systems Engineering and an M.S. in Engineering Management, went to work.

In their offices, co-founder Ben Conway gave a demonstration by standing in the “field of vision” of the camera, which then projected his life-size form onto a stage across the room. The VNTANA system is transportable and scalable to any project size—the demo system that projected Ben’s full-size hologram onto the stage fit inside a hard case roughly the size of a ski bag, and takes roughly an hour to put up and take down.

The company, which has 19 patents pending, is currently focused on scaling its operations by renting and selling to brands for use at trade shows, e-sports gaming companies, and live venues, as well as further developing and selling their proprietary software. Its seed round was led by Tylt Lab and followed on by other entertainment investors. VNTANA’s clients include Microsoft, Nokia and Kia.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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