Today, a Norwegian startup called The Future Group just revealed itself to the world, after operating in stealth for three-and-a-half years. We all knew Virtual Reality and/or Augmented Reality is coming - we just didn't know which, or when, or where, or how. The answer is both, in every TV and every phone and in VR googles, all connected, now.
As if Nolan Bushnell's involvement wasn't enough to speak for the importance of this tech, 'The Wonderful Wizard of Woz' Steve Wozniak has also been tied to it. Why? Because it's going to be big.
Forget Pokémon Go. This is it, the future of Television, of content, of video games and esports. Mixed Reality is now a product ready for the global market.
"You're not just running around picking up balls or whatever. You're fighting trolls, riding on the backs of dragons, racing spaceships, etc. Now we can place all this in a game-show setting, because it's happening real-time as we see it." says Bård Anders Kasin, co-founder and CEO of The Future Group, "And what's really interesting is that the audience can be made part of the show. Through the mobile app or VR-googles you can be immersed in the virtual environment."
Imagine gigantic multiplayer games where you have a TV-show in the middle running the whole thing. Compete against your family or friends sitting next to you in your sofa, or how about against the whole nation - you can be participating on your own device and have it rendered in the virtual environment live as part of the show. Or imagine having cities compete against each other in real-time. The possibilities are endless, and soon there will be no need to imagine them...
What The Future Group is presenting to the world, and making available for content creators everywhere is years ahead of its time. There are startups who are independently displaying bits and pieces of the same technological capabilities, but to put all the pieces together in something like The Future Group's already working platform would take any company trying to catch up at least three years, in Bård Anders Kasin's estimation.
Starting today it's publicly available to every content creator in the world. That being said, The Future Group has already been approached by many - if not most - of the major media producers AND are already in production with "at least one of the biggest TV entertain production companies in the world." The first show will be released before the summer of 2017.
At the core of the technology is a Virtual Reality studio that allows real-time live broadcasting of unscripted action that would otherwise take hours upon hours of animation time to produce. Bård Anders Kasin says he realized where entertainment tech was headed when he worked on the production of the Matrix.
"The Matrix was the first production ever to use a game engine for animation. That made me realize where the industry was heading. Some of those things we'll now be able to do live." Since then he's been working on various projects during which many of the basic components of the technology have been developed. That's how The Future Group can be so far ahead of its time.
The co-founders Jens Petter Høili, Chairman of the Board, and Bård Anders Kasin, CEO, were introduced by a producer three-and-a-half years ago while working on a project for Norway's channel 2. At that time they were both pursuing individual projects.
"We realized that if we combine our two projects we would get something that's really extraordinary."
And they have some very complementary experience. Jens Petter Høili is a serial entepreneur with a lot of experience, not least from the Høili Group, and Europris - a leading Nordic retail chain which had its IPO last year. He has also founded several first-mover ventures such as EasyPark and FairChance Group.
Bård Anders Kasin has a more technical background. He entered the entertainment industry early and has served as the Technical Director at Warner Bros, working with some of the largest movie productions in history, such as the Matrix trilogy. He has also done advanced research and development in rocket science (with NASA), industrial simulation, augmented reality and high-end digital cinematography.
Both have lots of international experience but express that they're a bit tired of Silicon Valley and glad to now be based in Oslo. Recruiting has proved easy. The future group already has employees of 14 different nationalities.
Investors have so far funded The Future Group with NOK 250 million, or about $30 million. The company employs about a hundred people already, with 40 more coming soon. Expectations are high.
The Future Group is already in production with world-leading TV entertainment production companies, but the business model is far from limited to licensing the technology. Besides selling all manner of services to the companies using the technology, The Future Group also sees a huge opportunity in building a big user base.
"The really exciting thing is the business-to-consumer side," says Bård Anders Kasin. The Future Group is of course eyeing the rapidly growing esports industry, because they don't expect the technology to only be used for TV. And that means they'll be able to apply typical game commercialization models - in-app purchases in freemium games for example. The platform also means completely new possibilites for marketers wanting to display their product in an immersive environment, to name a few.