Simon Fuller, Verizon Form Pact to Develop 5G Music and Entertainment Experiences (EXCLUSIVE)

Simon Fuller - Verizon 5G
Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

Simon Fuller is fully on board the 5G hype train: The British music impresario believes the next-gen wireless technology is a game-changer that will transform the way fans experience music and entertainment.

Fuller, creator of “American Idol” and founder of XIX Entertainment, formed a partnership with Verizon to develop experimental new entertainment experiences using the telco’s 5G Ultra Wideband platform and VR, AR and mixed-reality technologies.

“It’s a way for me as an independent entertainment entrepreneur to explore what’s possible with a large technology company that has invested billions in this incredible technology,” Fuller told Variety. “If we find something that connects, we can take it to the next level” and launch a business based on the prototype.

For now, Fuller is a bit cagey on the details of what Verizon and XIX are working on. The focus of the collaboration is on enabling real-time interactions among friends and streaming content instantaneously, taking advantage of 5G’s low-latency and high-bandwidth characteristics.

The companies described their first project, which is expected to arrive in early 2021, as a short-form, 360-degree immersive video that can be experienced with virtual reality (VR) headsets. The companies also are working on two other projects: a music- and dance-based mixed-reality experience, and one involving playing with augmented reality.

For Verizon, teaming with Fuller and XIX Entertainment is part of its strategy to try to incubate killer 5G apps and make them a must-have for consumers. The telco similarly has 5G content-development deals with Snapchat and “Pokémon Go” creator Niantic Labs.

The deal with Fuller and XIX is “to explore, develop and create, but it’s absolutely about building new businesses that live in the context of 5G,” said Erin McPherson, Verizon’s head of consumer content and programming. “We will co-parent the things that come out of this partnership.”

That said, it’s not structured like a traditional output deal. “The future [5G application] use cases for consumers don’t exist yet,” McPherson said, acknowledging that Verizon and its partners are still in the early days of figuring out what the intersection of 5G and entertainment ultimately looks like (even as Apple’s first 5G-enabled iPhones are now hitting the market). McPherson said 4G LTE provided the foundation for the explosion of online mobile video, and she asserted that “5G will have impact as great or greater than that.”

Under the pact, XIX will collaborate with engineers in Verizon’s XR Lab and 5G Labs to create and deliver “new storytelling formats and experiences,” optimized for 5G-connected devices and next-gen entertainment devices like VR headsets and AR glasses, according to the companies.

Fuller said he first connected with Verizon by way of one of his friends in Sweden who was working on an Abba project — and who happened to be from the same town as Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg. Fuller met up with Vestberg a year and a half ago to talk about the potential for 5G, after which the XIX team reached out to McPherson (with whom they had worked with in the past) to hammer out a partnership.

“I can’t read the future better than anyone else,” Fuller said. “But I’ve always been excited about the next wave of entertainment and what’s coming in the next evolution of pop culture.”

Separately, this summer Fuller announced a partnership with TikTok to launch a talent search to find the next supergroup on the short-form video app.

In 2002, Fuller’s “American Idol” became the first network TV show to let viewers vote for their favorite singers by texting from their smartphone and he cut one of the first deals with Apple to distribute songs from the show on iTunes. In 2008, Fuller inked a deal with Apple making iTunes the exclusive partner for downloads of “Idol” music performances.

Fuller’s background includes ventures with the Spice Girls, Abba, David Beckham and Victoria Beckham, Sir Michael Caine, Amy Winehouse and Now United, in addition to his role as the creator of the durable “Idol” TV format.