Virtual-Reality Startup Jaunt Raises $65 Million from Media Firms

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Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney being photographed by the Jaunt multiple-camera system, right, at a 2014 concert. MJ KIM/MPL Communications

Walt Disney Co.DIS +0.32%, Sky SKY.LN +1.45% PLC and other global media firms are investing $65 million in a Silicon Valley virtual-reality startup, signaling increasing interest in the immersive technology among traditional media.

Other new investors in Jaunt Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., include German media conglomerates Axel Springer SE SPR.XE +1.73% and ProSiebenSat.1 Media AGPSM.XE +2.23%; China Media Capital, a Chinese government investment firm focused on entertainment; and Evolution Media Partners, a venture fund backed by private-equity firm TPG and Creative Artists Agency LLC, Hollywood’s largest talent agency.

The investment is among the largest funding rounds in virtual reality and brings Jaunt’s funding to about $100 million. Google Inc. and several venture funds last year invested $542 million in augmented-reality firm Magic Leap Inc., and virtual-reality-headset maker Oculus VR raised $75 million in 2013 before Facebook Inc.FB +1.22% purchased the company for $2 billion last year. Jaunt declined to disclose its valuation.

Jaunt helps create and distribute live-action virtual-reality content, which differs from the computer-generated content that has fueled the rise of virtual-reality gaming. Jaunt, with about 60 employees, leases to filmmakers a spherical 24-lens camera for thousands of dollars a day and then stitches the different lenses’ footage into a single image. Jaunt also hosts and distributes virtual-reality content, including a Paul McCartney concert and a video produced for VF Corp.VFC +2.12%’s North Face that makes viewers feel as if they’re base jumping into a Utah canyon.

Many traditional media companies hope that virtual reality will open a new source of sales for their content, while some believe the technology has a chance to be the next major medium, joining radio, television and film.

“I find virtual reality to be the most compelling new visual medium to come onto the entertainment landscape in my lifetime,” said Rick Hess, the 50-year-old head of Evolution Media. “It’s going to open an entirely new monetization market for the industry.”

Entertainment is a natural fit for virtual reality, with the potential to immerse users into movies or give them the perception of sitting courtside at a basketball game, for example. Hollywood has started to embrace the nascent technology. Legendary Pictures, which co-financed “Jurassic World,” is developing content. And Virtual Reality Co., a Hollywood startup formed last year to create virtual-reality films and documentaries, is producing a feature-length virtual-reality film called “There” that will be released in episodes next year, though the company is also seeking a theatrical release.

Virtual reality also has promise for journalism. ABC News last week released a nearly six-minute video that immerses viewers into war-torn Syria. Dan Silver, executive producer of ABC News Digital, said he initially viewed virtual-reality technology as “gimmicky,” but has come to believe it can help tell stories. “I think the potential is huge, but it’s a question of scale,” he said. “What are the right stories?”

Disney said in a statement that virtual reality has “incredible potential across all sectors of entertainment.” In 2014, Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “One of the most exciting developments I see on the horizon is technology that will immerse us into entertaining worlds.”

The technology faces its mainstream moment over the next year as several virtual-reality headsets are released to the public, from Sony Corp.6758.TO +4.21%, HTC Corp.2498.TW 0.00%, and Facebook Inc.’s Oculus unit, among others. While those companies’ devices run off computers or game consoles, Samsung Electronics Co.005930.SE 0.00% this year released a $200 headset that holds a smartphone as a screen. Google also sells a $20 cardboard headset for smartphones.

Please feel free to call or email Mike Balistreri at 408-802-8743 - mikeb@getfound.us

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