CANNES 2019: The Marché’s Cannes XR focused on the options that location-based entertainment can explore in a bid to survive, evolve and, just maybe, become the future of VR
Unspooling over six days (14-19 May), Cannes XR, the Marché du Film’s focus on extended reality (which encompasses virtual, augmented and mixed reality), dedicated its second day to the Location-based Entertainment (LBE) Summit. A series of panels kicked off with “The LBE Landscape”, which explained what exactly defines this format. The discussion was followed up by “Creating VR Experiences For Location-Based VR”, which delved into the challenges that studios have to face – as well as the new opportunities available – in order to either create narrative content or adapt it to a commercial setting.
The last panel of the day was “The Business Model For LBE Narrative VR”. Moderated by Will Stackable of SpringboardVR, the experts, Siqi Chen of Sandbox VR (Hong Kong), Liz Rosenthal(Venice Film Festival), and Antoine Cardon of France’s DVgroup, attempted to focus on a whole range of options as they explored the current business status of LBE. Starting with the self-evident fact that LBE is more popular as a form of out-of-home entertainment, basically owing to its high equipment cost, Cardon underlined that this format will endure and grow to reach the same level of prestige as the movie format enjoys today after efforts have been made to evolve it. After presenting his IVRT (immersive VR theatre) title The Horrifically Real Virtuality, which is based in a real setting and features real actors interacting with the users/visitors, he stressed that we are close to realising the dream of actually entering a film and being part of it.
Rosenthal, meanwhile, focused on the current difficulties standing in the way of LBE experiences because, more than any other format, they need to be exhibited – properly and with the correct equipment – and then distributed. For that reason, Venice is the only A-list festival that has already put VR on an equal footing with other film formats, as it has its own official competition. In her view, festivals can, and should, play that role in order to evolve the format. Speaking about this evolution, Chen mentioned that the market is now ready to adapt and accept the new implementation methods.
The panel agreed that a more active business model had to be developed, as practically speaking, this content hasn’t yet found its audience. Gaining a foothold at festivals is the first step, but still, narrative LBE – in contrast with games, which are more widely accepted and have a broader reach – needs a more costly repackaging, as it can’t be deployed that easily. This is a complex equation that needs to be solved, as the deployment framework is not yet active and has not been extensively tested. Building an ecosystem is the most important factor. Cardon noted that, when it started, cinema was just a form of entertainment for cafés and took many decades to actually find investors, its own grammar and language and, of course, rooms for its exhibition: today’s cinemas.
Apart from the difficulties, the panel also underlined the social value of LBE, which is also its biggest selling point. Users experience the content in groups of friends or with their families, and by socialising, they spread the word and invite more people from their circles to participate as well. So, since it’s still hard – or even impossible – to have access to this entertainment at home, the audience is finding new reasons to explore LBE. At the moment, malls have embraced the technology more than anyone else, and they are thus practically on the front line. Chen mentioned that in China, more malls are using an operating model that focuses on entertainment, rather than shopping, and this trend is giving the first indications of what the market will be like, at least in Asia.
The final remark was related to the high cost of production as a way of justifying the cost of the tickets, as well as ease of access when it comes to this technology. But everyone agreed that attracting people and selling a story are both hard, especially if the story is not good, as the market could then be negatively affected. In the end, as is the case with any other market, it’s all about the format, and if this is well made, then the audience will come and then subsequently return.