When it comes to virtual reality, we hear a lot about advancing hardware and the growing number of immersive experiences created — but one thing we hear less about is distribution. After all, no medium can truly take off if people can’t find a way to access it. And like many mediums, there won’t just be one platform that virtual reality will make its way to. Here’s a look at three distribution platforms that are hoping to help usher virtual reality to mass adoption.
Transport: The Netflix of Virtual Reality
VR content has found a home, to some extent, in places like Steam, Google Play, and the Oculus store, but Anthony Batt, the co-founder of WEVR, wants to build a new kind of home. The VR company behind experiences like TheBlu and Hard World for Small Things feels virtual reality (and its creators) deserves something different. “We thought it would be a nice thing for the community to have a place to put stuff that is like-minded and creative,” says Batt.
That place is Transport, designed to be — as noted in its official announcement — “an independent platform for artists and storytellers working in VR to help promote and share their work.” Not exclusive to any one VR hardware family, the content on the platform is either curated or created by WEVR for consumers’ enjoyment.
If that sounds a little like Netflix — also a platform that curates and creates content — it’s not far off. There is, however, one notable difference. Transport is deeply invested in making sure all its content exemplifies consistent qualities: great storytelling, intellectually engaging material, and experiences that live up to the potential of VR. Batt and WEVR believe in advancing VR from breakthrough to mainstream technology, and content is the way to do that. “It’s really a collaboration between hardware and content to drive a new medium,” he says. Good content will drive better (and cheaper) hardware, and better hardware will make more ambitious content possible. That, in turn, will bring customers to VR.
Transport knows it’s still in its early days — the platform is currently in beta with almost a dozen experiences — and knows VR is too. That’s why it’s lining up its long game to gain an edge in establishing itself as VR’s Netflix as early as possible. “Because Transport’s in service to the consumer, we really want a broad range of stories that are entertaining, fun, and mind-blowing to be there, so that when people get hardware, they say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve heard about Transport,’” Batt says.
WEVR Transport’s user-interface
Surprisingly, Batt doesn’t want Transport to be the only curated VR platform. “We think that for Transport to win, we have to have other winners out there too,” he explains. “Transport will hopefully be one of many good places to go — just like right now, you can get Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. They all have really good content that people are making and there’s a lot of great creative work going on.” As for what “winning” would actually look like for Transport, Batt says, “I think it might look like what Netflix looked like after five years: great content, active users, happy people, and happy creatives.”
WebVR: The Ecommerce Hero of VR
Most virtual-reality content these days tends toward one-off storytelling experiences — narratives, documentaries, games — that run up to 15 minutes long. But for Amitt Mahajan, managing partner of VR/AR venture fund Presence Capital, virtual reality needs to do more to succeed as a medium. “When you think about — ‘How does VR permeate our everyday lives? How does it become more than just a once-every-couple-of-weeks type of thing for most people?’ — it has to be really easy to jump in and out of,” he says. “What’s going to be a thing that, when someone says, ‘I want to do X,’ VR is what they reach for, and it happens often?”
The answer, Mahajan believes, is virtual-reality content produced for, and accessible from, the web — specifically content that has everyday practical and ecommerce use. For example, visiting IKEA’s website and being able to hop into VR to see the physical dimensions of a couch, or going to a real-estate site to virtually visit a home you’re considering. But for that type of VR content to be possible, it has to become accessible in a way that much of VR isn’t currently. “If I have to go and download a 15-megabyte 3D model, then install it, and then load my application in order to see that, nobody’s going to do that,” Mahajan says. “That’s a reason distribution’s so important.”
The platform for that content will then become how we access most of the online world now: browsers. He imagines a “web-browser distribution model,” which is already in works with the development of WebVR and MozVR (from Mozilla). “I think, eventually, what will happen is that there will be web pages that will have some additional markup that says, ‘This is the VR content available,’” he says.
There’s still a ways to go before it’s possible to effectively show what Mahajan calls “lightweight VR content,” but eventually he believes the web will be a platform where content creators can post virtual-reality experiences that consumers can easily access. “I think that’s really important,” he concludes, “because it allows VR to become a much more frequent-usage type medium versus once in a while.”
EEVO: The Importance of Branded Content
Businesses looking to provide virtual-reality content like product previews on the web won’t be the only ones in need of a platform. Virtual reality offers great potential for unique branded-content experiences — experiences that will need a more sophisticated way to be accessible to consumers and viewers.
A moment from “Stan Lee’s Cosmic Crusaders” in VR powered by EEVO
Enter people like Matthew Griffiths, the founder and president of EEVO, a company looking to empower businesses with virtual-reality ambitions. After first aspiring to be the YouTube and Netflix of VR, he came to realize there was a need for a different kind of distribution. “We had a lot of calls to companies that would usually end up with them saying, ‘Can you brand us our own app? Can you do our platform?’” recounts Griffiths. “There was the need for better distribution technology for somebody who was looking to create content themselves.”
EEVO went on to develop technology it could then license out to companies, allowing them to brand their own content and easily distribute it. EEVO first helps businesses build, style, and customize the branded apps where their VR content would appear, then places them in the Google Play store and elsewhere. Once that’s done, EEVO provides tools that make it possible for companies to easily publish any future content directly to their apps.
Enabling companies to do that is something Griffiths — like Mahajan and Batt — believes will help virtual reality succeed in the long term. “We are out there trying to further and democratize VR, to get as many platforms out there as possible and make it super-accessible for anybody making content to just come to us. We take care of all the complications of distribution,” says Griffiths. “That’s how you’re going to get the best content, and that’s how the user gets the best experience — if most people are really competing to put out their best work.”
The Future of VR Distribution Is Wide Open
“There likely will not be a single distribution strategy that is suitable for all forms of content,” Mahajan wrote in a Medium post, and these three examples of budding VR distribution models illustrate just that. But while they may be representative of a vast range of content, they’re far from definitive. What they share, however, is an understanding that, for virtual reality to succeed, it requires content that can be easily accessed. Time will tell what other distribution platforms will emerge (or ultimately succeed), but that fact will undoubtedly remain true.
Header image: The current lineup of VR experiences on the WEVR platform, courtesy of WEVR