The virtual-reality market is starting to flourish amid the growing availability of headsets and mass distribution for 360-degree video on popular over-the-top channels such as Facebook and YouTube.
To truly resonate with consumers, though, those technologies and platforms must offer fresh, compelling content, and startup Littlstar has taken that challenge head on. Despite its small size, Littlstar has created apps that get virtual-reality content from some big names, including The Walt Disney Co., Discovery Communications and Showtime, in front of consumers.
Littlstar founder and CEO Tony Mugavero spoke with Next TV editor Jeff Baumgartner to discuss the state of the VR sector. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: Littlstar bills itself as a premium VR network. What does that mean, and what role do you play in the VR content ecosystem?
Tony Mugavero: We’re building a premium destination for consumers. What that means is going out and finding the best in 360-degree video, particularly content that’s of high enough quality to be viewed in a virtual reality headset.
We have apps across the different headsets, like Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift … we’ll be on the PlayStation VR when it goes live, and also on mobile devices. You can enable mobile VR on our apps so that you can jump into a Google Cardboard-type situation [or] the number of variants that are coming out that are similar to Cardboard. We have apps across the entire ecosystem, both for a VR headset and a 360 video, which includes an Apple TV app.
MCN: Why is it important to address all headset platforms and 360-video distribution that doesn’t need a headset?
TM: We knew VR headsets were going to take some time to roll out into the market. It’s probably going to be the end of 2016 before we get any real sense of numbers and 2017 before we see any real consumer adoption. In the meantime, we thought about how we could build a large library of content and bring people into the fold using devices that they already have.
MCN: How much VR content is in the works right now and how does that compare to what you had going in 2015?
TM: Last year, we saw maybe 10,000 different pieces of content being created. For 2016 … I can see more in the range of 25,000 to 50,000 pieces of content, in terms of 360 [degree] video. Right now, a lot of the studios are either converting over to VR production or creating in-house teams that solely focus on that, and Hollywood is … opening up budgets.
MCN: What’s the biggest challenge you, as a company, face this year, and how does that compare to the biggest challenge faced by the larger VR industry?
TM: For the industry, we’re all making the bet that this is going to happen. In some sense, we are willing it into existence. The right signals are coming in where you have all of the big tech companies putting hundreds of millions and billions of dollars behind these initiatives, and all of the big movie studios are starting to create VR experiences.
But consumer behavior needs to change … which is hard to do. You’re used to coming home and plopping down in front of your TV for a couple of hours, or even as background noise. That’s why some people think gaming is going to be where the early adopters are going to be, because gamers are perfectly happy in front of a screen, engaged in a game for multiple hours at a time.
MCN: 3D TV went through a hype cycle and ended up being a dud. What’s different about VR?
TM: 3D was an enhancement to an existing way of telling stories. VR is a fundamentally different medium and presents new opportunities for storytelling and interaction.
I think what crippled VR in the ’90s was that the hardware was too expensive and the software in the machines wasn’t powerful enough to even create compelling experiences. Now, you have the perfect storm of the really powerful hardware, really powerful broadband Internet and great software that’s running on high-powered machines.