Lionsgate is diving into virtual reality by launching a dedicated VR app for the home entertainment release of Summit Entertainment’s Deepwater Horizon. The 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD versions of the film can connect with the Deepwater VR app that’s available for iOS and Android devices. The Digital HD version is available today and the disc-based releases will be available on January 10.
The free app, which works with mobile VR goggles like Google Cardboard, adds another layer of immersion to the traditional director’s commentary track that Peter Berg provided for his film. The film’s editor, Colby Parker Jr. also provides insight into the three 360-degree scenes.
The mobile Deepwater VR experience includes three scenes with commentary and is free to download through the Apple App Store or Google Play. The first scene is fully accessible when the app is downloaded and the additional scenes are unlocked using audio recognition while viewing the film. Created by SubVRssive in partnership with Lionsgate, viewers will also be able to see renderings and sketches of the various special effects used in the film.
Michael Rathauser, senior vice president of marketing for Lionsgate Home Entertainment, told [a]listdaily that virtual reality opens up a variety of creative and marketing opportunities. “One of the things that struck me most when I watched our VR app is that we’re just scratching the surface,” Rathauser said. “When you take the director’s commentary and put it in the world of VR, it’s a more immersive and more personal way to communicate and get information from the director.”
Lionsgate captured 360-degree footage of the production on location while Berg was directing Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich and the cast of the film. “The Deepwater commentary was done in post, but we captured footage during the shooting of the film with the idea that it could be a VR experience as well,” said Rathauser.
In addition to working on Cardboard, Rathauser said anyone with a smartphone or tablet can still get a 360-degree video experience through the app without a viewer. “360 is terrific, but when you put on a headset, it is a completely different and more immersive experience,” explained Rathauser. “The jump to VR is similar to what the home entertainment industry saw when it went from VHS to DVD. You have to see it to believe it. Once people try VR for the first time, and it’s a sea change for them. That’s what it takes to understand the power of this new medium.”
Rathauser said he’s looking forward to how other creative teams embrace this technology to expand the home entertainment experience. “This is an opportunity to create more engaging experiences for consumers,” he said. On the marketing side of the equation, Rathauser said VR opens up the ability to reach consumers on app stores in addition to the digital storefront. It also introduces additional PR stories about the titles.
Deepwater Horizon isn’t the only film getting the VR treatment from Lionsgate. The movie company has partnered with Qualcomm to debut a new Power Rangers VR Experience at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, ahead of the March 27 theatrical release of the film. “We’re excited about Power Rangers,” Rathauser said. “We’ve done a few other VR experiences like Blair Witch. From a marketing standpoint, we’re using that to help market the January 3 home entertainment release of the film. VR helps us market to a broader group of people.”
According to Rathauser, home entertainment provides a great platform for Hollywood creatives to dip their toes into the new medium. “We’re seeing great interest from creatives that it’s a whole new way of storytelling,” he said.
Moving forward, Rathauser believes there are a lot of opportunities to go beyond these first Deepwater Horizon VR offerings. As more releases add VR, there’s also the potential for a dedicated Lionsgate home entertainment app. “We like the idea of an app that can be used for multiple films because there are efficiencies to that,” Rathauser said. “And from a marketing standpoint, we can build a relationship with the customer.”
While the focus today is on mobile, Rathauser is tracking Sony’s recent release of PlayStation VR, which plugs into the over 50 million PlayStation 4s in homes around the world. “With PlayStation VR the more penetration and more ways there are to experience VR, it becomes a viable alternative for home entertainment,” Rathauser said. “Gamers tend to be at the forefront of new technology.” Both the PS4 and PS4 Pro also play Blu-ray discs, which adds another level of synergy to home entertainment companies.
Lionsgate is also exploring virtual reality gaming with The John Wick VR Experience that Starbreeze is developing for IMAX VR. “We expect the game to really catch on and get people excited for John Wick 2,” Rathauser said.