Hulu just took its first step into virtual worlds: The streaming service released an app for Samsung’s Gear VR headset Thursday that allows consumers to watch close to 30 360-degree videos. The app, which is available on the Gear VR Oculus Store, also offers access to Hulu’s entire catalog of TV shows and movies via a virtual living room.
Hulu had first announced its foray into VR back in September of 2015, but the company’s head of experience Ben Smith told Variety this week that his team decided to delay the release to get things right. “We really wanted to build an experience that we believe in,” he said.
Part of that was getting the app itself to work well, and find the best way for consumers to navigate through menus, as well as switch between immersive VR videos and Hulu’s traditional library content. But Hulu also wanted to be able to launch with enough immersive content to keep people interested beyond the first viewing session. Said Smith: “Novelty is not going to be a pleasing experience over time.”
Hulu isn’t the only video service eyeing VR. Netflix launched an app on the Gear VR last fall, but is currently giving its users access only to its regular catalog on the VR headset. Amazon recently indicated with a job posting that it is also interested in distributing VR content, but hasn’t officially announced its plans yet.
At launch, Hulu’s VR app includes close to 30 360-degree videos from Discovery Communications, Baobab Studios, the National Geographic Channel, RYOT, Showtime Networks, Viacom and others. And while many of those clips may be available else where as well, there are also some exclusives.
Hulu tapped into its existing relationship with RocketJump and longtime YouTube creator Freddie Wong for an exclusive VR short dubbed “The Big One” that was produced in cooperation with Lionsgate, Legend and WEVR. The film lets users be present as a meteor shower descends onto Earth, quickly turning from a visual spectacle into an imminent threat to mankind’s survival.
In addition, the app will also feature some exclusive National Geographic content, and premiere videos from SilVR Thread and Studio Transcendent.
At launch, all of this content will be free to view for users with or without a Hulu Plus subscription. Smith said that the company is still exploring different monetization models. “We are definitely excited about the advertising opportunity,” he said. But with with consumers just starting to buy headsets, it would be early to really think about this as a revenue generator, he argued.
Still, Hulu doesn’t view this as an experiment, said Smith. “It’s something that we believe in.” As such, the company is in the process of building out a VR content roadmap for the rest of the year, and also has plans to bring the app to additional headsets in the future. “We believe in this as a long-term investment,” he said.