Episode 020 - Danny Keens - Virtual Reality & Roads to a $100M Exit | Limeworks

Episode 020 - Danny Keens

Virtual Reality & Roads to a $100M Exit

In this amazing episode of NOT The Rob Bell Podcast, we chat with Danny Keens, Senior Vice President of Content at NextVR. 

NextVR was just acquired by Apple for $100M! They're a leader in immersive Virtual Reality broadcast of sporting and live events. 

We chat about the challenges in tech, opportunities in Virtual Reality, and so much more. 

Watch the Episode

Listen to the Audio

SHARE

Transcription

Please note, while an effort is made to provide an accurate transcription, errors and omissions may be present. No part of this transcription can be referenced or reproduced without permission.

Rob: So Danny Keens, Senior Vice President of content at Next VR. Thanks so much for joining us on the podcast today.

Danny: Great. Thanks for having me.

Rob: And so obviously, you're based in the States right now, but you started back here in Australia working for some of the major networks. Can you give us a bit of an insight in where you started?

Danny: Yeah, well, that's a while ago. But I studied actually at a Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga. They had a production course out of there and fortunate enough to land an internship at Channel Nine in Sydney. And I and during that internship, the Steve Liebmann, Tracy Grimshaw doing the Today Show and I was the coffee boy, got to make coffee and tea and do a bunch of stuff, early morning starts and I was like, you know, living the dream in TV, right. Like, you know, early morning starts making coffee and tea for the hosts. But yeah. And then just sort of work my way up through the, you know, the different roles at Channel Nine and ended up doing some really great stuff. And but the last stuff I did at Nine was the producer at 60 Minutes. And it's still one of the best jobs I ever had. It was great. It was filled with really awesome storytelling. Got to travel the world and tell really amazing stories. And I think I know I felt like I had a great sense of, you know, that I was having some sort of impact on the world in that role. And it was it was a lot of fun.

Rob: That's very cool. And I guess you couldn't have really foreseen the path that your career then took maybe at the time. I understand that you worked at Twitter on your way to next VR for quite a period of time. Can you give us a bit of an understanding of that pathway?

Danny: Yeah, it's funny because with the passage of time, the pathway becomes a lot more apparent. But definitely at the time I have had many moments in my career where I've sort of thought, wow, it's weird how I ended up here. You couldn't have mapped this at all planned for it. And I think that's probably the nature of everyone's career. Right. Like, just things happen and opportunities arise. And certainly a lot of luck and a lot of sort of good timing I suppose on my behalf when it came to the opportunities but Twitter was in it's very early days. And I was working at Channel Nine at 60 Minutes. And one of the things that they discovered about the platform was that it generated a lot of conversation around television programming. And of course, being a startup and filled with lots of really smart people with technical backgrounds and engineers and developers, they really were looking for people that could try to bridge the gap between technology and the media business. Knowing that those are core strengths of the platform was in that sort of conversation around television programming. So they started looking to bring people into the business that understood the TV mentality. You could talk to TV folks and could forge partnerships between the Twitter products and what was on air. And so they came knocking one day, and I took the leap and started in Australia in the Aussie office. And eventually they moved me across to New York to run sports partnerships for North America. And both the Australian part of that journey and the New York part were incredible and a great company that you know, had a real impact on the world. And you knew the product that we were building was enabling people to, you know, talk and communicate in ways that previously hadn't been fathomable, you know, when it came to things like the Arab Spring, for example. And so that's an uprising. The fact that you could share and communicate globally in a way that never previously been possible was a great thing to be part of.

Rob: It's certainly an interesting observation around the difference between, say, a tech company and something very indentured, like a big television network. And what, where there some sort of unexpected synergies between that transition?

Danny: You know, it's weird because when I worked in television, I mean, I worked, part of that period, I worked at ESPN as well here in the States. So it had it's sort of taste of network television both cable in the US and of course network in Australia.

Rob: Sure.

Danny: And the part that frustrated me all the time working in television in both countries was it was very rigid. Right. There wasn't a lot of flexibility. You know, these are businesses that have been built in some cases, they've been around for 50 plus years and everything has a system. And, you know, by that very nature, at times the job gets frustrating because you want to do things, you want to change things up, you want to make changes. And there's a lot of friction that comes with sort of having those sorts of ideas. And so then when I moved across to tech, it was very different. There was a lot of fluidity. You could you know, if you wanted to go and do something, you could do it without a ton of oversight. You could make decisions around the sorts of things you wanted to do and and very little pushback. And a lot of the mentality was just, you know, a bias to, yes, let's go and do it. Let's, you know, let's see what will come of it. But very, very quickly, I had these moments about 2 years in where I was like, oh, I kind of miss the structure of the TV business. I miss the sort of like the mentality of like there's a process and this is how it gets done and this is what you do and this is who approves it. And that stuff was. Because it gets tiring, right, It gets tiring to try and navigate those conversations where there isn't a structure in place like, you know. And so there's the push and pull of both. I can't imagine I thrive more in the in the later, which is that just go and do it. The startup mentality. And I feel like I've look at my career, it's it goes to the network mentality through to the Twitter mentality, which is still a relatively large company by the time I joined. Right down the funnel to the Next VR piece, which is, you know, a really, really small startup that was, you know, had big plans, but it didn't have a lot of structure at all.

Rob: And so I think that's a really interesting change where you've gone from super rigid to very, very flexible. But then when you've entered VR, which is really on the cutting edge of content production, it's essentially like the Wild Wild West, where almost anything goes because he's sort of making up the rules as you go, right?

Danny: Yeah, I mean, that was the, the great challenge in the early days of VR has been that there are no precedents for the deals you put together, the way that content gets created, it's syndicator or it gets distributed is new. And so know part of the challenge in that is your not just trying to, explain to people how to use the technology and the impact it can have on the end user. But a lot of the time, your actually just trying to explain the business model. And that's the that's the real challenge, because even in television, the distribution models and the and the content syndication models already exist. It's sort of, it's the front end of creating content that is where it's sort of a lot of the conversation takes place. The rest of it is just get spat out through the traditional pipelines, you know, via networks, or to cable, or to VOD, or SPOT or whatever it is. In VR, it's like it is very challenging. But that was also what was the most exciting part of the job.

Rob: And so we'll come back to the production challenges for VR in a second. But for someone who's not too familiar with Next VR as a company and what you're trying to do. Can you give us a, the rundown of what the business case is and you know what they're all about?

Danny: Yeah. So Next VR, the global leader in broadcasting live events and virtual reality. And so our, one of the powerful things about the is the concept of presence and emersion. I mean, that's the promise right, is that when you put a VR headset on, what you experience content, you know, you're going to be teleported or transported to another world. And there's been a ton of inherent problems with that promise, which we can get into. But just to sort of wrap up your question. That's what we did, right. That's ultimately, we will put people courtside at a live NBA game. We put you on the goalposts at an NFL game. We've put you behind the goals in an ice hockey game. We put you front row a at Life Nation concert. You know, the band. We would we would take you behind the scenes of a world of dance extravaganza. We put you front row, with the Moscow Ballet for the Russian Nutcracker. The concept being that when you're in our experiences, you feel like you're there. And that opened up this world of sort of giving people the best seat in the house. And sometimes, a seat that money can't buy, right. For one of our life NBA games, the camera's position was below the stanchions, the basket was just above you. And that in itself is seated, even if you had an amazing amount of money, you couldn't buy that seat because it doesn't exist. So we basically would teleport people into live events and give them access that they can't get any other way.

Rob: It's very cool and I'm a huge fan of VR and new tech in this space. Was there, obviously, we've touched on a little bit between the difference between a tech company and a network. And obviously sporting is something which Next VR is a huge part of. We're there some challenges there in terms of either conflict with, you know, indention providers like ESPN or was there a benefit to springboard there?

Danny: Yeah. It's so, that is a question laced with complexity. And the reason for it is because it's a dance. I mean, look, we, it could be a challenge occasionally from a production perspective, because we would occasionally be chasing the same camera positions. But at the same time, our camera technology did have the ability to take out what where producing and send it to a highest broadcast speed for traditional live broadcast. So we could service the traditional host broadcast at the same time as doing the Next VR broadcast. That networks here are pretty like savvy when it comes to VR and most of them have got some sort of platform now or are starting to produce content. Turner Broadcasting does live NBA games as well. There's a lot of sort of. It's been a slow burn, but there's a lot of traction now in the space and it's become easier now than it was, say, four years ago when we started doing live NBA games, because back then there was a lot less awareness for the sort of VR ecosystem and the value proposition of the medium.

Rob: Of course. And so from a production consideration as a content creator. There's some real key challenges that come with producing content for VR that don't exist when you're basically pointing a camera and dictating the process?

Danny: Yeah. There's a couple so that. So one of the key ones really is camera position, so the cameras don't zoom. So that's the big difference, really, between traditional broadcasting and a VR broadcast. In VR, we put you with a camera is positioned. Now in traditional broadcast you can have a camera at the back of an arena and it can zoom right in and get a close up of Steph Curry on the sideline. And it's a great shot. In VR, you put the camera at the back of the arena and you feel like you're sitting in the cheap seats at the back of the arena. So camera position, it's definitely important. One of the things which we, a lot of the content produced was we would just focus on the front 180, we wouldn't shoot a full 360. There is a lot of reasons for doing that, mainly for us, is about camera position. So we, if we look at our broadcasts and think where people are spending a lot of the time watching, it's always with a narrative is. The narrative is always in front of you, right, like it's the sports event in front of you. No one's looking behind them at the crowd or the people eating popcorn, or having a beer behind them. Occasionally they might look. But reality is, is you always looking forward. And so we would we wouldn't produce a full 360, we'd produce the 180. So we could put up cameras in positions we didn't have to really worry too much about what was behind. So we wouldn't be compromising from a camera position perspective for, for something that people are very rarely going to look at. And we use the back of the broadcast for, as a graphics interface where we'd put like team matchups and logos and just have it as a virtual world.

Rob: Sure. Because I think it's a very interesting thing. As a user, to have a different perspective when you're watching VR content, because. Traditional TV is a very passive activity, but VR is super active and.

Danny: Yeah, a bit you can you can, this is something which I'm actually quite. I actually get quite passionate about this topic of sort of the interactivity and the sort of the value that VR can bring to a broadcast vs. yeah this is the one way communication with TV that people traditionally have. I, when I started in VR, I was I was very much about sort of the interactivity, the ability for people to choose their own adventure, the ability for people to move around and experience the ability that the how you could look at storytelling differently. But I changed my opinion on it pretty significantly. Through that time. So in the early days, I was watching as much VR content as possible. I was watching everything that was being released. I was spending hours in the headset and it's on any given day sometimes and just really consuming a lot of stuff. And then one Sunday, I went to the movies and I sat down in the movie theatre with my popcorn. And I just had this sense of like, I can't wait to just be told the story, like just sit back and not have to work to be told the story. And I. And it was this sort of epiphany I had, which was that actually storytelling shouldn't be hard. Like, if you give people options, if you give people too much, if you put them too much in control of the story, it actually isn't fun anymore. You have to make decisions. You have to worry about things. And so as a storyteller. It's actually better to, say somebody to be told the story. It's actually better if you can just sit back and and be told the story. So I think that the value proposition of VR actually isn't all those things, which originally and a lot of people still think it is. I think it's about it's still very much about the presence and immersion that comes with the VR broadcast and it's technology.

Rob: I think it's an interesting observation, and we've obviously seen on traditional 2D platforms things such as Netflix, Story Mode, you know, interactive series and that sort of thing. Do you feel that VR content delivery is almost like a better version of 3DTV as opposed to super interactive?

Danny: I'm not a fan of the comparison between sort of 3DTV and VR, what the thing. And mainly because, 3D sort of is laced with a, sort of tainted, like the industry didn't really like, flourish right. It came and went. There was a lot of friction with 3DTV and most importantly, there wasn't enough value proposition. So you could it's kind of cool, right. Like, it's all right. But you've got to put the 3D glasses on. You can't, you're TV you had to look from one angle. There wasn't enough content. And it just wasn't worth the effort. VR's very, very different. Although the analogies continue, I hear them all the time. And and the reality is, is that like the VR. Will, by far, in time be the only place to watch content because that is what it gives you. There is a ton of really, really bad PR content out there today right. And that's part of the problem. When I say the industry's had a slow burn. Inevitably, the industry will flourish. And it will it'll be amazing. It'll be like everyone will be all this doomsday around VR will eventually like pitter out. But the analogy I like to use is it's the years 1996. And I'm telling you that I'm building Netflix, right. The reality is this is 1996, you couldn't download an image from the Internet, let alone a HD movie, right. So it's going to take years. The technology is slowly getting there. But it's going to be far superior than any other way of storytelling or content consumption that exists today.

Rob: And I think that's an interesting perspective with the role that technology does play in anything that's cutting edge like this. Are there some challenges that you struck trying to do something when you are on the bleeding edge of content creation that even the best and greatest VR hardware can't cater for?

Danny: Yeah, generate revenue. I mean, it's and I mean that with, I joke about it, but it was a struggle, and at times. And it actually wasn't a struggle because the audience wasn't there. It's a struggle because of the advertising business doesn't understand it. So when you're when you have a new medium that doesn't have, like, the metrics that people used to, that it doesn't have the sort of like way of measuring ROI that exists today. And you're competing against places like Facebook or, you know, YouTube views, Twitter views. It does become a struggle. And that is that in itself was a challenge. The hardware piece less so, I think with the form pack, that's getting better. I think there were certainly platforms that far exceeded and delivered well beyond what we thought they would do. And there are certain platforms that underwhelmed us, as a business. You know, PlayStation VR, very strong, continue to drive lots of growth for the business. Oculus with the with the Oculus with the Rift and The Go and the Quest later on. Less so sort of a Google Daydream which was released a couple years ago I think they made it to discontinue that now. That's how insignificant that device ended up being for our business might still be around, even though was Google. Yes. So the thing about the strange thing about the hardware cycles in VR is there super fast. I mean, Oculus released the Oculus Go in April last year, and then towards the end of the year, they launched the Quest, which was the new stand alone, 6 degrees of freedom, all in one headset, which is the first of its kind in the market, a stunning device. And really, I wish I wish in a sense, it was the first device ever released. Because the problem that VR had in the early days is that was this concept of the promise of VR was meant to be amazing but people to put on an old headset. Samsung, Vive R or the Google Cardboard and they'd go, oh, That's VR. Now reality was like I was saying the same thing. I was like, this can be so much better. The world has experience of these VR craze and they're all experiencing really terrible VR content, it's making you sick. You know, it's not it's not high quality. It's done by independent producers who don't know anything about storytelling. This year, with the release of the of the Quest and the content, that's coming to the platform. I've had many times when I've said I wish this was the first device that have ever been released because this is the killer device for VR in general.

Rob: I mean, technical limitations always play an interesting role. You know, we've had a long history of involvement in, say, web development and things, and we were always at the mercy of the browser. And you sort of have to design for that lowest common denominator in some regards. Do you think that's why maybe VR gaming is perhaps more popular in some regards because it is tied to that higher end of the available hardware?

Danny: Yeah, I think that the, it's funny. I think that the. So there's a lot of friction still to get into VR, right. Like, if you think about it. To watch a TV show. I mean, actually, let me let me rewind that thought for a second, because really, the thing is, is we are all chasing the same eyeballs, right. Like that's, and in VR, that's the same thing. I mean, we're doing live of NBA games, but those live NBA games available on someone's tablet. They're available on someone's mobile. They're available on someone's television. They're available on the radio, right. And so we're all chasing the same. We're just trying to be the best place to watch the game, right. And so so that in itself becomes inherently like the, the challenge was was always saying, like how do we. The only way that we win is if we are the best place to watch an NBA game. That's that's the reality. If we if we're the second best place to watch, well, we're not gonna get those eyeballs because they going to. Fans are always going to gravitate to the best place to to watch their team play. And so we you know, we spend a lot of time as a business, like thinking about what are the things that we can do to try to keep people in a headset. But we can get them to put the headset on, keep them in the experience and for them to be as less friction as possible. Hardware limitations aside which, you know, battery power and all that stuff coming coming to come into, you have to factor them in. But one of the things which we started to do was. We thought originally with our production that we could just stream an NBA game and put somebody courtside and that would be enough. The concept being present and immersed sitting courtside and a live NBA games never, you know, what an experience. Well, we quickly discovered is that like sports broadcasting specifically is very difficult because fans demand certain things. It's actually, they actually don't want to just sit courtside. They want to know, why's my team winning, why's my team losing. What's the score. They want to know the game clock. The want to know the shot clock. They want to know, why's my favourite player no longer on the court. They want to know. All this stuff that commentary brings, the slow motion replay technology. Everything that's been built for traditional TV broadcast has only been built for traditional TV broadcasts because fans have demanded it right. Like replay technology's there because that's what fans wanted. Colour, audio, all the stuff that came in. Advances in technology were sort of, you know, tried and sometimes passed on, but often continued with because it the broadcast better. So we had to layer all that stuff into our broadcast. So when you think about our live NBA game, we'd have slow motion replays in VR. We'd have like stats and data and graphics that will come in that will help give you context around the game.

Rob: So while the technology is very different for what you're producing, the production approach perhaps became more more closely aligned.

Danny: Yes, very, very much so. I mean, the crew, the team that was producing live NBA games. Where were traditional TV crew that I'd recruited from Fox Sports and ESPN and a bunch of places and some Aussie's actually from Wild World of Sports in Sydney as well. Came to join. So we we had a team of people but the skill set was the same. This minor nuances but ultimately, the two things that are different, are the camera technology and the feed your spitting out of the arena that goes to a headset. Right. Everything in between that is a, is essentially a broadcast production.

Rob: Yeah, of course. And certainly there's some very specific things that you need to cater for with sport broadcast, as you've mentioned. How does that differ for, say, something like a live event, a ballet, as you suggested at the start?

Danny: Yeah so. Less camera cutting like one of the things. So every time in VR that the cut. TV cameras right will cut, TV broadcast will cut constant, different angles, replays that stuff. Actually, it's counterintuitive because in VR, what you're trying to do is create a sense of presence and emersion, which we've talked a little bit about. But every time you cut a camera, you break the presence. Right, it's actually counterintuitive. You feel like you're sitting courtside, now you're no longer sitting there you're sitting behind the stanchion. So in something like the ballet. We tend to just do a single camera production. We put you front row. Don't need to cut cameras a lot. You just enjoy the show with the same for a live music concert. Probably just three. NBA would be like eight to 10 cameras. The theatre will be like one. A live nation concert with a big artist in like a house of blues or stadiums style show probably three cameras is enough.

Rob: So when you're, obviously when we go to a live event such as ballet or theatre or something like that, there's so much sort of spatial perception in the audio side as well. Does that require some specific handling that you maybe don't have to worry about with sporting?

Danny: Yeah, so special audio, super important because it's a big part of its big part of the product, ultimately. And you need to definitely give consideration to sort of like because you because you are ultimately in 3D space the whole time. So it can't be mono and it can't be it needs to be spatial. Something's happening over here, it needs to happen over here. Something's over here you need to. So special mike technology and then special software as well.

Rob: Interesting challenges from a technology perspective. No doubt.

Danny: Oh I was just going to say, I mean. Interesting challenges that fortunately I didn't need to solve. I work with some of the smartest people I've worked with in my career. I mean, these people, like you, present them with a problem and they solve it. And I'm like, I don't know how they do it, but they do it. I mean, that's what they do. My mind was blown everyday these people who would just like challenge, challenge. You know, I couldn't put incredible challenges to them and I'd find ways to solve issues which was such a, is such a great bunch of people to work with.

Rob: And how cool is that as a content creator, to basically imagine something that you maybe can't do right now and go to them with a problem and say, can you solve this?

Danny: Yeah, I mean, look, I presented some really like crazy, sort of like wacky ideas to engineers and technicians. Over the last couple of years and they never failed to deliver. I mean, that's the, that's the crazy thing about it. Now, a lot of the ideas were terrible, frankly, but the fact that they still, they took them and then ran with them to explore what it would look like, was so empowering because I kind of felt like nothing was ever impossible.

Rob: That's certainly a powerful position to be in as a as a content creator where you're not just using the tools you can develop the tools that you need. Definitely very cool. So if we shift gears a little bit and we look forward in VR and say in terms of regular business applications, you know, we saw the evolution of regular video, say, 10 years ago really kick off and it's still happening now. How do you see VR playing a role in regular business content delivery?

Danny: Yeah so, there's a couple of things on this, so there's a there's a whole industry emerging which is on sort of with workforce sort of B2B sort of applications for VR, training technology. If I think about a few of them, there's a there's a great one, which is there's a company here in the US that is doing this. So if you're trying to, when you're on a building site and you're using like massive like big hardware, cranes and tractors and all that sort of stuff, people need to be trained on that equipment often. And that equipment is super expensive. So a lot of the time it's more productive to have that equipment, of course, onsite, working to do the construction. But a lot of the time, some of that equipment needs to come off for training sessions to train future employees. And costs the business. Right. Because it's not really being used for what it should be. And that's sort of, there's a shift in that whole industry now, which is doing the training in VR so that the, the sort of big machinery can stay on the construction site. And then the final parts of this sort of training process actually happens onsite where the construction is taking place. And there's a ton of that stuff that's going on when it comes sort of very applicable to medical as well, like training doctors to do surgery and those sorts of things. The key to all of that is, is it's just it's really applicable to a ton of industries. But I feel like the ones where it's like most applicable to medical, certainly construction, for sure. I think there's teaching applications that haven't, I haven't seen a lot of stuff explored in this space, but I, I can't imagine a world where it doesn't get a lot of traction because, you know, one of the things about VR that if allowed, there's sort of sense of empathy that comes with with VR experience that you don't get from just looking at traditional pictures or video, right. We shot it, I'm very passionate about the homeless issues here and in Los Angeles, and so much so that we did a VR documentary called Homeless: A Los Angeles Story last year. And the motivation behind that was because the 65,000 homeless here in Los Angeles, who you see all the time, right. And the problem's getting worse and you're driving down the freeway on any given day. And these people just become sort of a blur to your life. And to a lot of people, they just become an annoyance. Because their camped out. And so I thought, you know, these are real human beings that have a story. And that had a life, they've just had a bit of bad luck, right. Like, and there but for the graces, it could be you or I, right. I mean, it's not it's not hard in this day and age to strike a little bit of bad luck and be able to not, you know, make ends meet, end up there. So we shot for three nights from the streets of L.A. with these homeless people, trying to tell their story. And it got selected for the New York Film Festival last year, which was great. But it was all about trying give, bring sense of empathy to these, to the crisis. That is a very different perspective. And only VR can do that because it doesn't matter how many news stories that you watch around the homeless crisis, putting somebody in a tent with a homeless person at night in the streets of L.A. in VR is a very, very powerful moment. And that's the stuff that really when I think about the future of VR and I think about like the storytelling abilities. There's no medium, that's ever existed that is as powerful as VR for that.

Rob: And do you think there's a an under appreciated eventuality that's going to come along where businesses can utilise that immersive and, you know, really strong experience to build empathy with, you know, a customer when they're trying to sell a product, for instance?

Danny: So we did a lot of work in the branded space for products with MasterCard is one of the one of the people who work very closely with. And so it was a way of creating these, they have experience centres that are all over the world where you can sort of go in and touch the feel the MasterCard products. It's a B2B sort of play. And we work with them to to create those experience centres immersively. And I think they recognise very quickly after we finished the sort of first slate of content that the physical experience, which they've spent, probably, you know, tens of millions of dollars building. Could be redundant in the future because they could just do all this stuff immersively. Like send somebody a VR headset or let them come somewhere to experience it without having to put the cost into the physical building, because it doesn't just do the same thing. It does it better. Right. That concept of being able to touch and feel things in VR or simply play with those, their products. It's the same sorts of things that you can do in the physical centre, except you don't have the cost of running a physical space.

Rob: It's certainly interesting and we've seen some experimentation in, you know, guided tours of certain areas and some really unique experiments in this space as well. Certainly when you look at the economic change between creating a physical experience centre versus, as you say, sending, even sending a headset to participants, the cost dynamic of VR and overcoming those technological hurdles will change pretty drastically wont it?

Danny: Yeah, yeah, I mean, this is the thing is, is it and this is inherent within any industry views that's emerging. I mean, VR production still relatively expensive. Right. Like to produce that develop the technology. There's a ton of money that went into the, into the business just trying to create stuff. Because we everything we're building essentially building from scratch. Right. Like they didn't, there's no. There's no real sort of like infrastructure in place, like these same traditional broadcasts where there's been camera companies around for many, many years building this stuff. There's a supply chain of content and a supply chain of hardware, whereas that will change over time and of course, it becomes more, camera technology becomes better, that becomes more sort of off the shelf rigs that people can buy. And the distribution platforms as will become, more sort of available.

Rob: And certainly there's a tech challenge with VR content at the moment in terms of bandwidth. And we see that with, you know, 4K content still struggling, but perhaps not so much in L.A., certainly in Australia, regardless of NBN technology. Even now on a 720p Zoom call. You know, we can see fragmentation and things like that. How far does that technology have to come to really enable, you know, live stream VR in a really broad sense?

Danny: Yeah, it's a, look it's a good question. 5G will change a lot for VR because it's look, it's more pixels with more pixels comes more bandwidth to get better resolution. If you don't have enough bandwidth, you don't have more pixels. It's just a shitty experience. Right. And it's and it's and it's and it's less forgiving than a traditional medium because you know you're basically trying to, trying to trick the brain into thinking that you've been teleported somewhere else. And so what ends up happening is when you have a bad VR experience, your brain picks up on things and it's sort of the push and pull of it is they'll be like a tear line or they'll be something which doesn't match in the experience that breaks that sense of emersion. So it's more important than ever. It's not just like a glitch on a video call. Right. It's it's a glitch in your world. And at worst it can make you sick. But when it's good, it's amazing. Right. And that's the challenge there. But 5G will help. I mean, I think that you would want for a high quality, high resolution VR experience, you need at least 20 megabit of bandwidth. For Next VR content. If you had anything below 7 or 8m, you might as well not bother try. Right. Because it's just it's just not going to be quality will be terrible. So there are challenges that I think 5G will help solve. But we'll see, because there's also you know there's a lot of challenges around 5G in general, and that is like just being on to the network capabilities. Right. Doesn't travel through walls, doesn't travel at speed and all that stuff, which will be challenges we will have to face. What ever industry you're in.

Rob: Do you think if we come back to Next VR as a company briefly. We know from the reports that it's just been sold to Apple for a hundred million dollars. But we also know that there was more than that in terms of investment in that went into Next VR. Do you think part of that, even though there's been massive inroads in producing sporting content and all the technology and everything that you've done really successfully. Is it still being held back by some of those technical limitations and maybe hampers that business case overall?

Danny: I don't know whether it's so, I don't necessarily think it's being it's being held back by those technical limitations. I think that the challenge is that there's not enough audience there for it to be a priority for a lot of the businesses that will be most successful using it. So if you think about a network like NBC. NBC deals in, you know, tens of millions of viewers on any given night, that's the benchmark for them for success is, you know, seven, eight, 10 million viewers to a primetime show. The challenge for them is when they think about investing core time, energy and money into VR. Is that the return for them is probably tens of thousands of viewers, right. At best now. And so you know, over time that will change. But that's really inherently. Once again that sort of push and pull of the of the medium is that when there's enough audience and enough devices, then there'll be a much more better sort of uptake from media companies to sports leagues. The challenge is that without their buy in, there isn't the great content that sends people to buy the hardware. It's the equivalent of no one goes and buys a television unless there's something they want to watch. And so the challenge has been for VR. A lot of really crappy content that isn't actually VR that place in the VR headset. So I know in my time I've met a lot of people who tell me that, you know, VR is not for me I get motion sick, right. So it's like actually there's no VR experience on, in the world that'll make you sick, what will make you sick, is 2D, 360 video in a headset that's meant for YouTube. Right. The idea is like if you're ever in a, in a VR headset and your world is moving and you're not. So let's say someone filmed, strapped a 360 camera to the front of a BMX and I went riding on it. Right. Or you are in a parade or a march and you're filming yourself moving along. That's stuff will play in a VR headset in a 360 video player but when you put that on and your world moves and you're not moving, it's car sickness, right. That's exactly what happens, is you feel ill. The real VR is not that the true VR is like you control the experience. Right. Like when you move your world moves, just like it happens to any human being. And that's challenging. It's very rare to find that content still today. That is really good, high quality content. And so Samsung in the early days, you know, had their Samsung Gear VR and their Samsung phone and they had their hardware, camera hardware, line of 360 videos and stuff. My bundle them all together. And they tried to sell it all together. People creating all this awesome content, putting it in a VR headset. And ultimately, it should never have been in a VR headset in the first place because it wasn't VR. It was just 360 video. So that's been one of the limitations is people thinking that they've experienced VR and they actually never experienced VR they just put a headset on with crappy content.

Rob: So do you think that from a smaller business, so we talked about MasterCard as obviously a global enterprise taking on this challenge. Do you think there's a role for smaller businesses to try and make some inroads into producing VR content? Or do you think it's just too early?

Danny: No, I think there's an appetite for. All of the major hardware platforms, platforms. If you think about VR just for anyone listening who isn't sort of familiar with the VR eco system. With every VR headset is produced by a manufacturer who will have it like an App Store that lives on that headset. Similar to if you got an Android phone, it's the Google Play store. If you got to IOS device, it's the, you know, the App Store. In VR, if you've got a PlayStation VR it's the PlayStation store, if you've an Oculus device it's the Oculus store. Right. But there's a ton of opportunities still for early, because it's still so early. There's a ton of opportunity for people to create content or create devices or applications and sit in their stores. Still can get featured. That can still drive a ton of downloads because there aren't enough apps to. It's not we're not talking about millions of apps in VR yet. Right. There's probably hundreds of good ones. And so if you build something, or create content that is really interesting. You probably get featured and you'll find that a lot of those hardware manufacturers, might even chase you down to ensure that you've got their content or your app on their platform.

Rob: So say the chicken and egg challenge that still exists in the VR space could actually be an opportunity in disguise.

Danny: Absolutely. I mean, it's like the early days of of the IOS App Store where people were making. I mean, I remember my time at 60 Minutes, we did a story on app millionaires. There's this one guy who who created this flash light for your phone. And it was for, obviously. A lot of those devices now come in the flashlight. Made thirty five million dollars. Thirty five million dollars for just downloads, of turning the phone screen into a torch. And that opportunity still exists. Now, in VR, the scale isn't there yet with that many people to make thirty five million. But certainly the opportunity to build that stuff now with the future in mind is where it's at.

Rob: It's certainly an interesting observation, and I think we all remember the multi-million dollar fart app that, that made headlines as well. So for, where starting to run out of time. But I do have a couple of questions that I'd love to get across. If you had to think around the VR space and its evolution, do you think there's sort of a timeline for when it will become much more widely adopted, or do you think it just be a slow ramp?

Danny: You know, it's a good question. I look, I think I always thought 2021 would be like the year. I meet people who would constantly talk about, like, next year, next year, next year. And, you know, after five years in VR. I always thought, like 21, 22 was sort of like way going to be the turning point for the technology for a few reasons. Bandwidth, we know. 5G's incredibly important just to be able to get good experiences. Form factor on the devices. And one of the big challenges for VR was this concept of six degrees of freedom. So until just recently, in order to truly experience VR, you needed to have a headset that was tethered to a computer. Right. Because it was, needed that much power to enable the ability to have the six degrees of freedom, which is that it's got to move around your world. Oculus released the Quest and was the first device that had what you call inside out tracking. So the cameras and the hard drive that used to sit around your house and around your room to track you, sit on the device. So the cameras sit here, the heart, there's enough. All the computer powering is packed into the device. And all you do now is pick it up on and your away and you can move around those experiences. That is was the first I think PlayStation probably had plans to do something similar. PlayStation VR at the moment still has a cord, tethered to the PlayStation console. They'll cut that cord with the next iteration of that device for sure. Maybe before Christmas this year. But it likely definitely out before Christmas next year. And I think those two devices having such market share will start to really get the entire industry traction, because I can now travel with, doing demos and traveling with my VR headset. Was the pain forever right until the Quest came out, and then I could put it in my backpack and go, right. And that and that to me, solving that pain point, even from a business perspective, I know that for the end user to be able to just put a device on and not have to worry about anything else, makes the experience more enjoyable.

Rob: Are there any aspects of VR as a content creator that you that you would love to problem solve? But, you know, the technology might take even further than that to really solve those problems, something that some, someone like myself couldn't consider.

Danny: I think that the challenge still is in so. So the answer is no. Because you're only limited by your imagination. I mean, I just sort of when I think about the Next VR team, like there wasn't anything which I didn't ask for that they couldn't, that I could contra up creatively, that they weren't rising to the occasion on. Right. I think the challenge is that I use to, talked about this quite a lot is that Hollywood hasn't come to VR. And what I mean by that is quality storytelling, quality content needs to come into the space. So a lot of the space still today has been independent storytellers, independent producers, people experimenting with content, people, people trying to do new and interesting things to storytelling because it's a new medium and I'm a big believer in that actually, you can't overthink it. Like you can't like storytelling hasn't changed in hundreds of years, right. Stories have a beginning, a middle and they have an end. And they're told to you. And I don't necessarily believe that that has to change in VR. I just think that the focus needs to be about making people feel more present in the storytelling.

Rob: Yeah, I think certainly once Hollywood figures that out and cracks that nut, then it will be a catalyst for huge change.

Danny: There's been some good. I mean, Hollywood's done some great experiences there's some great Marvel experiences out there, this Coco that Disney did their sort of short film storytelling. There's a lot of location based experiences here in the US, too, that the void do there's the Star Wars Experience. A lot of that stuff there was available on that Quest device, because of the freedom you have. And that's the stuff that really inspires me. There's a boxing game that you get. You can get in the ring with Apollo Creed and there's that sort of stuff, which is which is now starting to come, which is making it much, most of them of killer acts for VR that didn't exist say twelve months ago.

Rob: Yeah, sure. And so, obviously, Next VR's sold to Apple and probably can't touch too much about what their, what their plans are, even if you're aware of them. But do you think there's an opportunity for us to see something in the VR space, similar to what when Apple released the iPhone and revolutionised the mobile phone?

Danny: I think that there's. Every tech company worth it's salt on the planet right now is pouring billions of dollars into VR. I mean, you look at like what Facebook did when they purchased Oculus. Oculus for 2 billion dollars a couple of years ago. You look at like Microsoft with HoloLens. You look at all the investment that going into a company like Magic Leap. It's like there've raised 3 billion in capital. You think about the stuff that PlayStation and Sony are doing. Apple's just doing what everybody else is doing. And it is like recognising that VR and AR is going to be a huge part of how the world ticks right. In the future. And and I'm excited to see what they all do. I mean, you know, there couldn't have been at a company on the planet, really for the Next VR technology to land at, their one of the big tech companies. And it's it's gonna be great to see how it all evolves.

Rob: And obviously, I mean, Apple really transform themselves into a, you know, the trillion dollar company that on the basis of the iPhone. So now no doubt they are looking for that. That next nugget, even though nobody knows what it's quite going to look like yet. So it's certainly an interesting thing to watch. And so we are out of time. But is there anything that you would love to share with our audience around VR, anything they can be doing to sort of prepare for that next generation of content?

Danny: No, the only thing is, is if you tried VR in the past and, you know, it made you motion sick or you didn't like it or you thought you experienced it, I'd just I'd just tried again, because a lot has changed. The devices have changed. The form factor has changed. Their more accessible. The content is better. And I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Rob: So give it another red hot shot, even if you thought it was a, not so great at the start. Certainly good advice. Well, Danny Keens it's been a fantastic chat, and I really look forward to seeing what happens with yourself and VR in the future. If someone wants to connect with you as a content creator, where can they find out more about you?

Danny: Yeah they can just follow me on Twitter, my DM's are always open. So Danny, D.A.N.N.Y K.E.E.N.S, and I'm happy too, happy to field any messages.

Rob: Awesome. Danny Keens, thank you so much for your time.

Danny: Great. Thanks a lot.

Rob: There you have it. I hope you really enjoyed this episode. And if you did, please like it, share it or leave us a review on your favourite platform. It helps us show more of this content to people just like you.


Find Episodes by Tag


Recent Episodes