The ongoing effects of recent lockdowns coupled with an anticipated surge in consumer VR headset sales have made industry eyes look to online distribution pathways with more interest than ever before.

While on-site exhibition spaces remain hard-hit in this germ-averse age, the consumer headset market is expected to reach new heights, with market analyst firm CCS Insight predicting 69 million unit sales in 2024 alone – up 60 million from this year’s total sales.

If all that wasn’t enough to give the digital marketplace additional luster, some industry players believe changes in the larger telecommunication landscape will redound to the benefit of VR producers.

Speaking at a VR distribution panel organized by the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, Digital Domain director of content Jimmy Cheng argued that telecom providers eager to showcase their 5G networks’ increased bandwidth capacities would find in VR content a kind of idea test model, and that VR producers in turn would find in these tech giants new partners outside the usual suspects.

Citing both the substantial file size inherent to all VR content as the well as the telecom firms’ already extant OTT platforms, Cheng outlined the way in which multinationals like Huawei, Orange, and Deutsche Telekom could continue to license premium VR content as a way to prime the pump for 5G, all while strengthening their own market offering.

He also underscored the importance of festivals within this supply chain. “When telecoms start to curate, they normally don’t understand much about VR,” said Cheng. “If something has been nominated or premiered at a festival, that offers a kind of market validation.”

If the user base on most a-la-carte platforms is more inclined to seek out game-based or otherwise family-friendly interactive content, subscription services like HTC’s Viveport Infinity have offered additional exposure to more linear fare.

Offering partners a revenue share model built on a $12.99 monthly subscription fee, Viveport Infinity offers users unfettered access to its library, which has spotlighted recent narrative projects like Atlas V’s “Gloomy Eyes” and “Ayahuasca: Kosmik Journey,” and 2019 Venice VR winner “The Line.”

“For narrative experiences, the Infinity subscription program is very good,” explains HTC VIVE exec Mária Rakušanová. “More often than not, if your content is not necessarily a game… then people are kind of [reservedly] curious about these experiences, [only] they don’t think twice when they’re Infinity subscribers.”

Though those aforementioned projects first launched at physical gatherings before being made available via digital distribution, the events of this past year have sped that timeline up to considerable degree.

“I think there’s been a kind of game change,” explains Floréal Films’ Katayoun Dibameh. The Paris-based outfit, which co-produced this year’s Venice VR winner “The Hangman at Home” (pictured), specializes in auteurist VR projects that thrive on extended festival tours. Only recently, that timeline has contracted. “Now that all the festivals are taking place online,” Dibameh explains, “We need to have our online compatible versions of our experiences ready from the very start.”