Virtual reality is still in its early days as a mass medium, but the dawn of VR subscriptions is now here.
On Wednesday, VR studio Wevr launched the first subscription model for VR content with $8 and $20 annual membership levels, in an update to its viewing app called Transport. Wevr is one of several companies spearheading non-gaming virtual reality, like music videos and short films.
Virtual reality is an entertainment format that uses headsets to make viewers feel like they're in the middle of the action. It's among the buzziest consumer technologies this year, as big investments in VR hardware by tech giants like Facebook and Samsung start to deliver those products to consumers more widely. But companies that focus on content in virtual reality, like Wevr, aren't guaranteed VR will evolve with sustainable money-making models.
Right now, most VR content is either free or pay-to-play, and almost all paid experiences are games.
Anthony Batt, co-founder of Wevr, said subscriptions are more strategic than simply drumming up money. (Revenue from memberships will be plowed back into making more VR, he said.) Wevr hopes subscriptions set a tone that high-quality VR is worth paying for, provide creators more funding, and initiate a stronger connection with its audience, Batt said.
"Subscribing to a brand has more of a connection. We're trying to build that connection," he said. "When you're just buying something in store, that's a wholesale relationship."
Its subscriptions will initially include access to "Finding Your True Self," a meditation experience by Deepak Chopra; "Old Friend," a music video by Tyler Hurd that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this year; "theBlu," which takes viewers underwater into ocean habitats; and "Waves," a Reggie Watts comedy that premiered at the last Sundance Film Festival.
Batt said that more content will be added to the subscription tier throughout the year, but the cadence will be irregular.
The subscriptions have two tiers. An $8 annual membership works on virtual reality powered by a mobile device, like a Samsung Gear VR. A $20 annual membership includes mobile VR as well as "room scale" virtual reality, the higher-end systems that connect to a souped-up computer, like the HTC Vive.
Wevr will continue to have free VR experiences in the Transport app.
The updated Transport app with subscriptions works on the HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR headsets. Wevr has a beta version for the Oculus Rift, as it's making sure recently released Oculus Touch controllers work prorperly. The company is developing support for Sony's PlayStation VR and plans support for Google Daydream.