Disney, Traditional Media Pour Money into Virtual Reality Firm Jaunt


Fictional lives have always been Hollywood’s stock in trade. Now it’s investing in another form of virtual reality.

Walt Disney Co. has joined with Evolution Media Partners, a partnership of CAA-backed Evolution Media Capital, TPG Growth and Participant Media, and China Media Capital in a $65 million Series C investment in virtual reality production company Jaunt.

Additional investors included ProSiebenSat.1 Group, Axel Springer, Madison Square Garden Co., Google Ventures, Highland Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Sky (formerly BSkyB) and SV Angel. Jaunt had previously raised about $35 million in venture capital.

The round will be used to fund content production, improve Jaunt’s camera hardware and software production tools and to open a new Santa Monica production studio, which the company said will be a sort of resource center for L.A. content creators.

The Palo Alto company is one the best-funded virtual reality studios in the industry. The startup has produced a number of virtual reality films, including a concert with Paul McCartney, a fictional war drama and a documentary about extreme rock climbing. Eventually, it envisions building itself into a sort of HBO Go for virtual reality content.

The company sees its investment from Disney and other Hollywood players as an important part of its go-to-market strategy.

“In the case of Disney, for example, they have interests across wide areas of entertainment, news, sports, the parks. For us it’s a really terrific partner going forward,” said Jaunt Chief Executive Jens Christensen. “CAA has this tremendous reach in terms of talent actors, directors, people in the sports world.”

Those investors, as well as the international investors in the latest round, will be helpful in bringing virtual reality to the masses. And virtual reality content consumption is likely to increase in the coming months as the Samsung Gear VR headset and later the Oculus Rift headset hit the market, said Christensen.

“People, as they get the headsets, they are going to need the content,” he said. “We are very much focused on building up a library of high-quality VR experiences for consumers.”

Still, many aspects of creating virtual reality content need to be worked out.

“It’s completely the Wild Wild West,” said Morris May, chief executive and co-founder of Specular Theory, a Venice virtual reality studio. “It’s really a new medium. The things that worked in the past don’t work anymore.”

Close-ups, long shots or other framing techniques commonly used in shooting traditional 2-D or 3-D film no longer make sense, for example. Now audience members have the power to look around during a video, and that means virtual reality film makers have to use movement, light or noise to focus attention on a storyline. As such, traditional media companies are a bit out of their element and are anxiously looking towards startups like Jaunt to lead the way.

“Ten years from now you might not even have TV screens,” said May. “You miss this opportunity as a studio head, you’re going to be fired.”

Technology reporter Garrett Reim can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @garrettreim for the latest in L.A. tech news.

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