What a venture capitalist sees in the virtual and augmented reality market, By Sunny Dhillon

Jonny Ahdout / Within
Jonny Ahdout / Within

Before my career as an investor, I worked at Warner Bros. and at a venture-backed startup that spun off from New Line Cinema. And as an early-stage VC with Signia Venture Partners, I’ve been actively hunting for virtual-reality opportunities in the media and entertainment industry — I couldn’t be more bullish on VR and AR as a fanboy, consumer and investor.

Most venture-backed startups around entertainment VR/AR have fallen into four buckets: Cinematic VR, sports/live events, content-creation tools/infrastructure and gaming.

Moviemakers are exploring opportunities for director-uncontrolled viewer perspective in VR movies. Visual effects engineers improve motion-capture techniques for inserting real-life human holograms into virtual worlds. Movie studios look to additive VR/AR “bonus content” to help market their tentpole $100 million theatrical releases. Game developers look to create ethereal escapes and immersive horror and shooter games. And concert and sporting event producers look to engage (and monetize) fans on a new and exciting event viewing medium.

As an investor, I’m looking at all of these closely, alongside a few enterprise applications of VR/AR (particularly within training and education), but for the purposes of this article, let’s stick to the entertainment biz.

Cinematic VR

Cinematic VR refers to storytelling and short films — content whose success is dependent on creativity more than on unique, defensible technology. We have seen a host of venture-backed startups emerge in this category: Baobab, Penrose, Within (formerly VRSE), Felix & Paul and, at one time, even Oculus’s internal Story Studio. For the most part, these companies have either been started by recently minted Harvard Business School MBAs or by folks with significant past creative/technical show business experience. Investor-wise, strategics such as Comcast Ventures have been particularly active in cinematic VR; however, it was Andreessen Horowitz that wrote the biggest check to date for an early-stage cinematic VR startup (for Within).

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