Stunning future in sight for virtual reality

‘E2: Evolution of Entertainment Conference’ brings together students and industry professionals

March 09, 2016 Matthew Kredell

Imagine putting on a pair of goggles, and suddenly you‘re standing on a tightrope between the iconic Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. You look down and see New York City 1,300 feet below you. You feel a gust of wind and lose your balance, causing you to fall … onto a nice, soft carpet.

What you’re actually walking on is a picture of a tightrope.

That was an actual virtual reality experience from a panelist at “E2: Evolution of Entertainment Conference,” held Feb. 19 at Town and Gown. The event is hosted yearly by the student-run Business of Entertainment Association (BEA) at the USC Marshall School of Business, and brings together students and industry professionals to address the most relevant issues facing entertainment. There were more than 400 registrants this year.

The ‘ah-ha’ moment

The conference strives to answer some of the most pressing questions in the entertainment industry, said BEA co-chair Michael Bayles MBA ’16.

A summer internship with Universal Pictures led Bayles to realize just what virtual reality was poised to become. “That’s what first opened my eyes to this incredible opportunity to bring in some of the top minds in LA to come and answer this question,” he said. “And we hope it’s a benefit to our fellow students.”

This year’s conference looked at the practical applications VR will have in movies, television, gaming, music, social networking, news coverage and education. Exhibits of current VR experiences were offered in back of the ballroom.

On your mark, get set …

Participants agreed that VR is poised for growth. By the end of the year, three highly anticipated consumer headsets are scheduled to be released: the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.

“I think VR’s very similar to a volcano, where we see the smoke coming out and all the seismologists are saying this thing is going to blow,” said Chadwick Turner, founder of Circle VR. “But what’s going to make this thing blow up is that one piece of content.”

Monetization is a big question. Will VR roll out via an app that people buy or through advertising? The audience would have to grow significantly before that question would be resolved, panelists agreed.

The magic of Hollywood

USC Marshall alumna Shannon Gans, CEO of New Deal Studios, talked about the magic of VR and its potential as a fully immersive entertainment.

“To have the option of 3-D and be in that moment where you’re in another place because your mind just takes you there is part of why I pivoted to be in this industry,” Gans said.