TheGrill 2017: Why VR Is Hard to Monetize

“Timing is the question — how soon will we get there,” Jan Pinkava, the creative director of the Google Spotlight, says at TheGrill

As more and more studios are taking the plunge into virtual reality and theater owners like AMC making bets that it’s going to drive growth, some aspects of VR are still difficult to monetize.

“One of the things that is advantageous of location-based VR experiences, it’s clear how you monetize — you sell tickets, you sell time and you make a reservation and they go through it,” Vicki Beck, executive in charge of ILMxLAB said at TheWrap’s annual media and technology conference, TheGrill, on Monday. “The home market is harder right now … which is the interactive narrative. It’s clear and easy for people who are gamers to make the leap from console games to VR games. It’s less easy for people interested in narrative to leap into VR because they often don’t have the access to equipment or have the drive to make an investment.”

Up until now, there just haven’t been many people willing to spend thousands of dollars on a headset and high-end gaming PC, especially with the limited amount of professional quality VR content out there. And having essentially a rubber leash can provide an unwelcome jolt when exploring an immersive experience.

Beck and Jan Pinkava, the creative director of the Google Spotlight, spoke on a panel at TheGrill titled “VR/AR: What Makes a Good VR Experience” at the Montage in Beverly Hills.

Pinkava added, “People don’t like to wear something on their face, so we have to figure that out. In the right market, with the right push, of course we’re going to figure it out. We live in a world where we expect technology to do that. Timing is the question — how soon will we get there.”

Beck also pointed to the fact that developers often program VR for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift because they offer close to film quality and they try to adapt it for mobile.  This is where she praised Google: “They are trying to figure out tools and techniques that will enable companies like us to deliver high-fidelity experiences also for the mobile platform. I think that is really going to be important.”

Beck said our current time is “the single most exciting moment” for VR, and that it is “a pivotal moment because there’s all this infinite potential that has yet to be realized.”

She pointed to Inarritu’s “Carne Y Arena,” which was presented at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. During the experience, you are part of a group of illegal immigrants who attempt to cross the border into the United States — and get caught.

“What’s interesting about that is that Alejandro had a vision for VR First, a story that could only be told in VR,” added Beck. “I think it really speaks to the power of medium. What he has done is put you in the middle of a dynamic scene … You are with them. It’s so powerful and so heart-pounding and it affects people in a deep and significant way.”