VR on the way — The wait is not too long….
By Ninan E C and Deepak Gupta
The world and Indian audiences have been used to enjoying stories through radio, cinema, television & even mobile-centric experiences. Over the past few years we have been seeing the rise of VR based experiences driven more by the developed markets. Surely the growing connected Indian audience and developer ecosystem will not play on the sidelines. We believe that VR will not be a big bang, but as audiences and developers grow, it will surely reach scale in India both as a consumption and a developer story.
We attempt below to share our observations and thoughts on the space. WEH Ventures is on the lookout for possible investment avenues in these areas that Indian entrepreneurs could develop.
Where is VR today?
The consumer availability of VR headsets (like HTC Vive, Oculus and Playstation VR), technology solving a host of issues though at a certain cost, availability of ‘lower’ experiences on other platforms & on more widespread devices and Expansion into multi-user environments from individual experiences has been making VR more mainstream than it has been till now.
Today, entrepreneurs in VR have started work in a multitude of areas, including Entertainment VR (Cinematic VR, Theatre experiences, Movie promo material, Bonus content); Game Development; Broadcast experiences; Enterprise VR (Advertising /Brand experiences; Medical devices; Healthcare & therapy; Product demos; Brand launches; High-risk Safety training; Retail tryouts, Fashion selection, Interior designing, Architecture & Real estate); Travel, Museum & Heritage VR and a bunch of other areas.
A bunch of technology entrepreneurs have looked at ways to add to the Infrastructure needed for VR — VR headsets (at the top end there is Oculus, HTC Vive & Playstation VR, while Samsung GEAR has a lot of retail presence in India) — and some have started exploring how to use new & yet to be launched Augmented Reality technologies from Microsoft Holo Lens, Meta, Apple, Magic Leap, Snapchat Lens & Spectacle and Intel Movidius & RealSense.
Possible business models evolving in VR
While almost all VCs understand the perils of working on markets that have not matured or do not have enough size or ‘traction’, there are still areas where VR businesses could evolve in the India context. There are industries in India that could adapt to using the VR experiences and there are certain technologies that could develop out of India and scale as well.
Content creation by itself is more a creative activity, but the building of new business models around this could be a sustainable business. More and more customers and use cases are expected to pick up and use VR, and Indian businesses definitely have the potential to make this a key VR hub — from having plain-vanilla service providers, to tools & platform ingredient developers, to new business models that have economic scale in just the local market.
Similar potential-vs-reality-feedback has been said earlier about Gaming Development out of India (not enough local market usage, worldwide technologies applicable to India with minimal change), Software Industry potential from India (mostly restricted to successes around services) & even Animation Development (local market is not yet big and services market is still the play). But the Local adoption of consumer VR use cases, Enterprise use cases in specific industries, development of and expansion of New business models around VR, Mobile-specific use cases for mass adoption as well as Specific technology tools/platforms around VR that could scale beyond the India market could be where the local VR industry could develop itself.
Areas where Indian companies could be involved
The VR Fund has a VR Industry Landscape definition that divides it into Infrastructure, Tool & Platforms as well as Apps and Content development.
This gives a template to understand where new VR companies could develop and study where an Indian company could invest their energies in.
While there have been a few Indian startup forays into hardware infrastructure — 360 captures, computer vision, in-environment recognition, head mount displays — lack of electronics components and volumes from India are dampeners; this is still an area of interest for specific industries like medical and heavy industries where custom devices could be kick-started out of India.
Platforms and tools typically need worldwide scale for success, but already there is interest in developing certain aspects especially for specific industries. Advertising VR platforms, Premium distribution networks, Camera capture and object recognition using artificial intelligence, alternative ‘lighter’ 3D middleware for mobile phone based VR, optimizations for consumer connectivity, haptics for therapeutic usage, overlays in VR/AR environments, smartphone depth sensing, measurements, positioning & computer vision and VR-engine-on-cloud applications, could be areas where new businesses could make inroads.
Content services for VR development for specific industries has already seen work in real estate and interior design; traditional animation studios have been developing VR content for theme parks, rides & arcades and today training & product demo content development have started for a variety of sectors.
Early interest around VR and its newer avatars of augmented and mixed environments here has been around automotive, real estate, training and similar sectors where someone who could pay for the required content development & hardware could see immediate benefit. While each industry segment would have its own nuances like the number of potential buyers, ability to make the person who benefits to invest in development, coolness quotient of edgy technology for the brand, need for consumer investment in hardware or app downloads, etc, India could have volumes in specific industries to make these feasible.
Entertainment & broadcast
The areas that have seen interest here are around User-choice viewer perspectives, Motion-capture techniques for inserting real-life human holograms/realistic objects, Immersive game environments and fiction/fantasy experiences and Concert/stadium fan experiences. Game content especially developing for worldwide studios is the most cutting edge though potential Social, Casual gaming & Mobile (smartphone) experiences are also feasible. In general, building for multiple platforms (HTC, Playstation, etc) makes sense so that large enough markets are available and one is building for the world market. Broadcast today is looking at 360 degree experiences, fan engagements and in-game feel. However, mere replication of a US model or just creating a new channel extension would not be enough, this would need expertise to build up an emerging broadcast business model from the ground-up, with the ability to pick the correct rights, ability to put together workable network/broadcast technologies and negotiating sustainable partner margins for all players.
Star Sports and Meraki covered key India matches during the 2016 Asia Cup in virtual reality, providing a 360 degree match experience to every single cricket fan across the globe.
Advertising /Brand experiences
Except in the case of high end gaming where the user is expected to pay for the content and the hardware needed, in most other cases the takeoff point is complicated by the availability of hardware at the user point, the question of who will pay for a one-time or re-usable hardware as well as the technical challenges in production, distribution and playback of the content. The new-age or edgy feel associated with VR makes it compelling for brands (product brands or TV channels or maybe even cinema halls) to push for these experiences. Some of the early VR adoption is therefore via ad-sponsored content. While the Google Cardboard equivalents offer larger volumes than even Samsung GEAR or the top end HMDs, the ability to ‘push’ apps, the scale of consumer level adoption, etc mean that it is easier to have 360 videos on a channel like Youtube360 and use the limited experience in that platform than have full-fledged VR at the consumer level today.
Medical devices, Healthcare & therapy
Since some segments of this industry have strong brands willing to invest in VR for training, product demos and customer experiences, there have been development around content development, specific devices and haptic feedback for special needs. The fact that this is not mass consumer adoption, but either an enterprise deployment, or deployment at specific centres have made it easier to handle some of the cost and technology issues seen with VR implementation.
Enso Immersive: Enso has been helping brands provide AR & VR experiences, with special focus on medical research & VR for therapeutic usage.
Enterprise / Brand experiences
Most of the VR content services work that is happening today is happening around Product demos, Product launch experiences, High-risk Safety training, Retail tryouts, Fashion selection, Interior designing and Architecture. These experiences enable a limited rollout of VR hardware, a controlled experience in a manageable number of deployment centres and specific content tailormade to the context. These have been giving both the VR ecosystem and the brand owners relatively mild waters to test in.
ZED Interactive: ZED has been working with brands in the automotive, real estate & retail/ecommerce fashion brands.
Travel, Museums & Heritage
Consumer experiences on HMD headsets & on desktops and phones, using 360 videos & VR content, these industries have been trying to get VR implemented at specific venues as well as pushing it out to mass audiences on their phones/desktops.
In summary, we believe it is possible to, over time, develop scale for a VR ‘business-model’ out of India, in different aspects of this ecosystem, creating IP in parts of the ‘stack’ needed in the VR chain, offering services to the market and for specialized industries. Given the early days of maturation in this space, we believe that high quality entrepreneurs can build the right competence over time and emerge as leaders riding the evolution of this space.
At WEH Ventures, we are excited to explore early stage investment in this space and look at being a part of the journey. Get to know us better at www.wehventures.com
Ninan is an investor in WEH Ventures while Deepak is Founding Partner of WEH Ventures, a seed-stage tech focused venture fund.