Technicolor Exec: ‘We’re Still in a Crawl Phase’ with Extended Reality

NEW YORK — It’s still just the early days for augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and other forms of extended reality (XR), and funding remains challenging as applications continue to evolve, according to Marcie Jastrow, SVP of immersive media at Technicolor and head of the Technicolor Experience Center.

“We’re still in a crawl phase,” she said June 17 at the XR for Change Summit, held during the annual Games for Change Summit.

“You have to remember you’re strapping things to peoples’ [faces, and] it’s giving them zero view of outside, so that’s anxiety for them,” she said during a panel session on “Funding in XR.”

She’s been in the sector for about five years, and “it’s a tough space,” she told attendees.

Hardware companies were just jumping into the category left and right about five years ago, she noted. But 2.5 years ago, it became clear there was “no sustainable … distribution platform” and “funding stopped” because there were “no eyeballs — there was no way for people to see the content” because most people didn’t have hardware for it yet, she said.

“Like everybody else, when we jumped into this, we thought that XR … would be ultimately” a place that would help Technicolor “move into other areas” — markets other than entertainment and media, in other words, she explained.

“Everybody has something that they want to make, but it may cost a half a million dollars to make it,” so they often will turn to Technicolor or others for funding, she noted.

One area that she’s looking at now is what a “location-based experience might look like” that would boost interest among consumers, she told attendees. After all, at this point, “99 percent of the world has never even touched a [VR] goggle, [and] doesn’t even know what it is,” she said.

Monetization is important, she stressed, but added: “Unfortunately, at this point, it’s very hard to get monetization going.” Yet “every person you talk to, for the most part, wants some sort of” return on investment, she pointed out.

To improve the chances for monetization, she suggested that XR content be distributed for as many devices as possible and designed so that it can be used for AR and VR experiences.

“I don’t think anybody has done it well” yet, she said, adding: “People are just starting to look at that now.” Stressing that these are “still very early days,” she said: “We are still learning and getting” a lot of feedback, which it needs to know what products it should build.

“We are in a very interesting time right now, where the ecosystem is being built” for games that have a “positive intent” in the AR/VR/XR world, Steve Oyer, managing director of i(x) investments, said during the same session. For-profit investment firms like his are in the early stages of partnering with government and the non-profit world to create such games, he said, noting this is still a “very underinvested marketplace.”

So far, he’s seeing such partners are largely in the healthcare/medical, education and financial literacy spaces, he noted.

What makes the XR market is intellectual property that solves an inherent problem or is fun, he said, noting that those funding an XR project then need to find ways to distribute it.

He compared the XR space to another technology area, noting: “Big money is going into eSports right now. Why? Because people recognize the opportunity” there. But he added: “Venture capital firms are starting to look at investing in games” in general. And when it comes to “early stage content that’s consumer-facing,” such as in the healthcare field, big strategic partners are needed “to create the distribution that we all acknowledge is not there yet,” he said.

When it comes to XR funding, “I’m looking for anything that has real social impact,” Kristine Severson, director of global content partnerships at HTC’s Viveport VR app store, said during the same session. “I’m looking for a variety of content,” whether it’s entertainment that ends up being offered on Viveport or “something that’s tool-based that’s actually used in the field” for social good, such as at a refugee camp or animal sanctuary, she said.

Other takeaways from the session were that headsets are changing rapidly and the merger between AR and VR is happening quickly also.

During a fireside chat that followed the session, Jastrow said one thing she’s learned is that one shouldn’t get too excited by one piece of hardware or software. “It’s the ecosystem that surrounds it that will change the world,” she predicted.