Virtual reality (VR) is a new medium that many a technology guru has predicted will revolutionize cinema—or would, if it weren’t for the pesky problem (among others) that VR interface still requires the viewer to wear what essentially amounts to a “head box.” Nevertheless, VR markets around the world are slowly but surely expanding. Many of the major film festivals (Sundance, Venice, and Cannes, to name a few) now feature a special VR section. Overall the industry is indeed growing—especially in China. For context, here are some key figures:
- The value of China’s VR market in 2016 was around USD $500 million (mainly hardware).
- The value of China’s film market in 2016 war around USD $6.9 billion.
- The value of China’s film market in 2020 is projected to be USD $10 billion.
- The value of China’s VR market in 2020 is projected to be USD $6.5 billion (half in hardware, and the rest split between games, films, enterprise applications, theme parks, etc.).
This episode takes a look at the current status of the VR industry in China, and examines some of the obstacles it faces.
Gianluigi Perrone: Founder Polyhedron VR Studio | Polyhedron VR Studio 公司创始人
Denise Wu: VeeR’s Head of marketing | VeeR 公司营销主管
And, as usual, your host, Aladin Farré.
Special partnership for this episode:
This week’s episode is brought to you in partnership with “WISE: The Future Think Tank,” a group founded by Philipp Grefer in Beijing in 2018 to spark cross-sectoral dialogue about digital life, style, culture, business, science and technology. WISE invites and connects thinkers and doers from different industries online and offline to discuss essential questions about how we want and should live in the future.
For the second year running, WISE will be hosting a special event in Beijing at UCCA in the 798 Art District from May 18-19, 2019. Topics will range from how AI can help solve world hunger, if the robots will take over, what can be learned about the future by looking into the past, how to find China’s first international superstar, and the future of design and creativity. Investors will share new ideas about the future of cultural and tech industries and startups, while China’s first surfer will share her vision for an environmentally-conscious China. The event will also feature two concerts brought to you by the Reeperbahn Festival, Europe’s largest music platform for international and transcultural exchange.
SupChina Access members will receive a special discount.
To get your tickets and learn more, visit www.wisenotwise.com.
Three main takeaways from this week’s episode:
1) Professionals and audience members are still learning about VR.
The VR industry was a victim of its own success in the early 2010s. Creators and viewers alike were still learning the basics of this new medium, and there were significant growing pains. Hardware issues were also legion, and technology development took time–despite significant pressure from investors. Like many other buzzwords in related industries, like “AI” and “blockchain,” VR in China had plenty of attention but ultimately little to show for it.
2) Success for VR depends on these key elements: Good content, strategic distribution, and focus on the “theme park model.”
Manufacturers and content producers are increasingly focusing on the potential of VR. In the process, they have found that one of the keys to ensuring a consistent user base is to invest in good content that is easily accessible to audiences. An example of this is the “location-based cinema” model, which is why there are more and more VR experiences to be found in shopping malls. Producers are also pushing for VR content to provide very intense, albeit brief, experiences. This helps to differentiate VR from films and video games, and ensures users are still incentivized to pay for VR experiences that are necessarily much shorter than films or video games.
3) The VR industry in China is simultaneously advanced and underdeveloped.
VR is one of the few art forms that was developed and introduced to the whole world at a single time. However, the Chinese VR industry still presents an interesting paradox. In China, there are hundreds of companies manufacturing equipment and no shortage of investors, but at the same time, artists and production companies have yet to produce many blockbuster pieces. There are plenty of reasons why this may be the case. Unlike in the West, there are fewer opportunities for large amounts of funding from public sources or big studios to support VR production, for example. In addition, the technical support needed for producing VR pieces is largely in English—a fact that has also held back the Chinese video game industry, as this podcast discussed previously. Finally, in the current market, local VR creators are often forced to spend time working on other projects to support themselves.
Recommended watching and reading:
Pinta Animation VR Studio: Website
“Magic Leap” VR equipment: Website
A Touch of Sin (2013) : Wikipedia
Dying to Survive (2018) : Wikipedia
Answers to the episode quiz:
- Anthony Arthaud, a French theater writer, was the first person to coin the term “virtual reality” in his 1938 book “The Theatre and Its Double.”
- $2.5 million dollars (USD) is the amount that VR company Oculus Rift earned in their 2012 kickstarter campaign and $2 billion dollars (USD) is the amount Facebook paid for the company in 2014.
- The number of China’s VR headset companies…is hard to count, but to start, you can look at Ant VR, DP, Pico, Iqiyi, 3 Glasses, etc.