AMC Entertainment has invested $10 million into Los Angeles-based location-based virtual reality (VR) startup Dreamscape Immersive, and committed another $10 million to finance VR content productions with the startup. As part of the partnership, Dreamscape and AMC are also going to open six VR centers in North America and the U.K. together.
“AMC has a long history of innovation in the theatrical space,” said AMC Theaters EVP John McDonald in an interview with Variety, during which he also stressed that the traditional theater space and VR have a lot in common. “The business of theaters and the business of VR come both back to content,” he said.
Dreamscape CEO Bruce Vaughn said that his company was “incredibly happy” to have a partner like AMC on board, giving it a chance to kickstart location-based VR at malls and theaters. “It’s where most people will first experience this medium,” he said.
Having served nine years as the chief creative executive of Disney Imagineering, Vaughn is intimately familiar with the challenges and opportunities of location-based entertainment. But he isn’t the only high-profile entertainment executive at the help of Dreamscape. Co-chairman Kevin Wall has been producing high-profile music events like Live 8 for decades, fellow co-chairman Walter Parkes was the co-founder and longterm president of DreamWorks Entertainment and COO Aaron Grosky was the longterm president of Control Room entertainment.
Like The Void and location-based VR startups, Dreamscape is also betting on completely untethered VR experiences. This means that participants will be wearing VR headsets powered by a computer carried around in a custom backpack, which allows them to walk through a stage that combines real physical cues with virtual worlds.
One of the features that sets Dreamscape apart from the competition is that it uses extra trackers that are strapped to the hand and feet, allowing the system to approximate body movements and reproduce accurate representations of other participants in virtual multiplayer spaces.
In a demo shown to industry insiders and press, the company uses this to let participants toss objects back and forth — all without taking off their headsets to look at the “real thing.” “We thought it was very compelling,” said McDonald.
Dreamscape is now looking to open a first, previously-announced VR multiplex in Los Angeles in the first quarter of 2018. The six AMC-helmed locations will follow later next year. At the point of launch, the company also plans to have multiple VR experiences available to visitors, with plans to frequently swap out content to make it work for multiple audiences. “A VR multiplex is about having a breadth of choice,” said Vaughn.
That’s one of the reasons Dreamscape and AMC are also partnering on content production. “Content will be key,” said MacDonald. “We want to seed that market.”
Parkes added that Dreamscape also plans to adapt existing experiences that were previously released to the home VR market, and adapt them to make them work with multiple participants and on bigger stages — something he likened to “late-night programming” on traditional television.
With centers like the ones opened with AMC’s help, Dreamscape hopes to fill a void as malls are battling declining attendance due to the growth of e-commerce. “There are a lot of real estate opportunities,” Parkes said. “Malls will increasingly be entertainment centers.”
For its part, AMC still sees partnerships like these as a kind of trial run. “We are optimistic about the potential for VR,” McDonald said, but also acknowledged that the company isn’t ready for a big strategic bet just yet. “We’ll see where it goes.”
The DreamScape deal isn’t AMC’s first foray into VR. The company already has an existing relationship with IMAX, with which it launched an IMAX VR center in New York this summer. McDonald described the initial results of that cooperation as “very strong,” and said that it may also help launch additional IMAX VR sites down the road.
AMC’s investment in Dreamscape is part of a $20 million Series B round of funding, which is being led by the entertainment company and is bringing the total valuation of the VR startup to $150 million. Other participants in the round weren’t disclosed, but previous investors in the company included Warner Brothers, Fox, MGM, IMAX, Westfield Malls, Steven Spielberg and Bold Capital.