Immersive entertainment still sounds like something of the future. Even with the substantial progress that’s been made within the past several years and the announcement of new affordable immersive gear from companies like Facebook, the transition to make immersive formats — like virtual reality — a household commodity seems far off. But while tech companies scramble to make VR a more accessible format, Hulu — one of the country’s most popular streaming services — is experimenting with the entertainment side of the technology, preparing for the day a VR headset is in every living room.
“VR is still a new medium. We’re experimenting with VR. Our focus is to learn what content resonates with viewers in VR and create fully immersive viewing experiences for them,” explained Julian Eggebrecht, VP of Technology – Device Platforms, Emerging Tech, Virtual/Augmented Reality at Hulu.
As of now Hulu has experimented with VR “living room” experiences, meaning that anyone who has a headset and a Hulu subscription can choose from several location to be transported to when watching their favorite show.
“Our team is building unique 360-degree, virtual reality “living room” environments where Hulu VR app users can hang out in and interact with before they start watching their content. These environments include our new, spooky Haunted House, a private big-screen theater, a modern, chic living room and a relaxing beach,” Eggebrecht explained. “Our real-time rendered new Haunted House environment, for instance, is filled with endless eerie Easter eggs, waiting to be discovered. There are gaze controlled effects and randomized haunts are interspersed throughout— when you look at the doors, you hear knocking and the spooky door handle jiggles. All of these effects are built from the ground up by my team and are on individual randomized timers that control how frequently you’re served up the effect.”
Of course, Eggebrecht admits that “The more immersive [the VR], the better the experience,” meaning that it is possible the company may venture past the living room for a more interactive experience, but as of now its too early to tell if that is a viable possibility.
“Because VR is so new, our focus is on learning as much as we can about what resonates most in VR, growing a premium library of content and building out a VRexperience that our viewers enjoy. We have been seeing great responses from early adopters so far and, of course, we are proud to win the first-ever ABBI award for ‘Best Use of VR’ at the GABBCON conference.”
In the past, Hulu has partnered with Livenation, a live events company, for the immersive series “On Stage.” The short-form show, which seeks to take a deep dive into the creative process of an artist’s live music experience, has already featured artists like Little Wayne and plans to feature the EDM trio Major Lazer as they perform in Kingston, Jamaica. For Eggebrecht, immersive experiences like “On Stage” “have the potential to transform the entertainment experience – to allow viewers to see and feel the vision of the content creator in an auditory and immersive sense” an experience that he feels “is worth exploring.”
Immersive tech may not be a common household format just yet, but if spending habits mean anything, the future is promising. A new update to the Worldwide Semiannual Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide from the International Data Corporation forecasts worldwide revenues for the augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) market to reach $13.9 billion in 2017, an increase of 130.5% over the $6.1 billion spent in 2016.
As for Hulu, the most important thing when determining the company’s future approach to VR is making sure “The viewer always comes first,” says Eggebrecht. “For every detail in our apps, we ask ourselves, first and foremost, what our viewers would enjoy the most, what would give them more value and what improvements we can make for them. As VR spreads, we will experiment with the immersive aspects but even within that experimentation, our North Star is our viewer.”