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Streaming TV Continues its Push into Location-based VR

Poster for iQIYI VR immersive theater Love Between Fairy and Devil Photo Courtesy of chinadaily.com.cn.
Poster for iQIYI VR immersive theater Love Between Fairy and Devil Photo Courtesy of chinadaily.com.cn.

I’ve documented Netflix’s entry into the location-based VR space. It started with Viva Las Vengeance, a 6-player zombie shooter from a taco truck that fizzled as a touring attraction but now anchors Six Flags and Area 15 in Las Vegas. They’ve followed with Squid Games Virtual and Rebel Moon at Sandbox VR. Fans love finding new ways to connect with their favorite stories, and streamers have plenty of stories to tell.

The latest news from China suggests this isn’t just an American phenomenon. iQIYI, one of the largest streaming services in China, has announced a new location-based VR exhibit based on their 2022 hit Love Between Fairy and Devil. It will launch at the mega mall Galaxy Promenade in Macau.

Streaming TV Meets the Experience Economy

iQIYI’s Dreamverse Studios created the VR experience, which anchors a large “experience store,” including a dress-up zone with traditional Chinese clothing and Instagram-worthy photo spots that recreate classic scenes from the television show.

“With deep roots in Eastern mythology and traditional culture, the blockbuster original IP Love Between Fairy and Devil holds significant cultural value and has garnered wide market acclaim,” said Zhang Hang, senior vice president of iQIYI. “By leveraging VR technology, we can further extend the long-tail value of this original IP, bringing Chinese culture to life in a modern way that resonates with a broader audience.”

The Macao project builds on two previous projects from iQIYI: Strange Tales of Tang Dynasty 2: To the West and Luoyang VR. This upcoming project in Macao will be further enhanced with interactive gesture control and flight motion simulators. Players will be transported to a visually stunning ancient world for an approximately one-hour-long journey, where they’ll encounter a series of puzzles tied to the storyline to solve.

Moviegoers Demand Immersive

Theaters and studios are struggling to navigate a new movie landscape incorporating premium video on demand, subscription services, and now FAST (free Ad-supported Streaming Television.) Meanwhile, consumers seek more immersive entertainment. IMAX and other premium formats contribute ever-increasing percentages of the box office.

41% of the new Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ box office came from premium large formats. Pre-pandemic, the percentage of box office from large formats was about 15%. The National Association of Theater Owners (the other NATO) reported that 39% of its members are adding premium screens, and 54% are upgrading sound systems. Upgrading is the only way to keep revenue growing despite decreasing ticket sales. Which have been in steady decline since 2002.

Annual Ticket Sales (From The Numbers). 
Note: Figures for 2024 are at an annualized rate (both in the graph above and the table below). The Box Office Totals in the graph above are not adjusted for inflation.
ABOVE: Annual Ticket Sales (From The Numbers). Note: Figures for 2024 are at an annualized rate. The Box Office Totals are not adjusted for inflation.

Time For Theaters to Innovate

Theaters must get serious about offering more immersive entertainment if they want to survive. Larger-format screens are one way, but is that a sustainable strategy? An 80” TV costs less than US$1,000 and, when placed 13 feet from the couch, delivers the same immersion as a 50’ tall IMAX Screen. (I know there is more to IMAX than screen size, but for most people, those details are received subconsciously, and that’s another blog post.)

Virtual reality offers the ultimate immersion, and new systems enable the same revenue per square foot business model as a standard theater. A huge amount of content is being developed right now, and studios are interested in monetizing it in more creative ways. Instead of letting them deliver these highly immersive spectacles to shopping malls, theater owners should consider how they can become the place people go for immersive entertainment.

Interested in how? Send me a message.

Say Immersed,

Bob

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