Youku launches con­tent drive amid dig­i­tal war to woo view­ers

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - ByWANG KAIHAO wangkai­hao@chi­

Vir­tual re­al­ity as a topic is of­ten dis­cussed at film events in China, of course, with an associated ques­tion: What should be broad­cast via VR?

But with the coun­try’s lead­ing on­line video op­er­a­tor Youku re­leas­ing its VR de­vel­op­ment plan in Shang­hai on May 11, Chi­nese film­mak­ers may now have an an­swer.

A trailer of Black Fairy Tale, which stars A-list ac­tor Huang Xiaom­ing, was also shown by Youku at the VR Won­der­land on that day. The thriller is China’s first short film to­tally based on VR tech­nol­ogy and al­lows view­ers to choose their own an­gles to watch it.

“VR has changed the way a story is told in films,” says Vic­tor Koo, Youku founder.

Sto­ry­telling used to have a be­gin­ning and an end, but VR now mixes per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences of view­ers with the film­mak­ing process.

“The end of a story is no longer the same for ev­ery­one.”

And, Youku is one among sev­eral pathfind­ers in China. Since the start of the year, many dig­i­tal fa­cil­ity man­u­fac­tur­ers have been pro­mot­ing such prod­ucts, too.

With Black Fairy Tale, Youku also launched a long-term in­vest­ment sup­port pro­gram for di­rec­tors to fo­cus on VR dra­mas.

“VR is a new trend,” says Huang. “While we should take a ra­tio­nal step to­ward it, try­ing some­thing new is also worth­while.”

Koo says it isn’t re­al­is­tic to make fea­ture-length films fully us­ing VR tech­nol­ogy to­day — due to the high cost and the prob­lem that view­ers may feel giddy, but short films in the for­mat can work.

Ear­lier this month, Iqiyi, an­other Chi­nese on­line video gi­ant, es­ti­mated there would be be­tween 10 and 20 mil­lion VR users in China in the next year or so.

Youku has even big­ger am­bi­tions. It plans to win 30 mil­lion users soon. And, films aren’t the only way to do it.

Ac­cord­ing to Wei Ming, vice-pres­i­dent of Youku, tourism is among ar­eas where VR is most needed. Ten doc­u­men­taries and a tourism series that have been made with VR tech­nol­ogy will be re­leased by the com­pany to­ward the end of the year.

On­line users can watch the pro­grams with aerial views, the an­gles of which can be freely cho­sen, he says.

More va­ri­ety and re­al­ity TV shows, in­clud­ing last year’s hit Go Fight­ing, will of­fer VR points of view to give au­di­ences “po­si­tions” to watch the scenes.

Wei says his com­pany may en­counter chal­lenges while mak­ing such VR videos due to the dif­fer­ent meth­ods of shoot­ing tra­di­tional TV pro­grams or films and those based on VR.

“When au­di­ences hear sounds from the back of a cinema dur­ing nor­mal film-view­ing, they think the sounds are com­ing from some­where far,” Wei says. “But with VR, they’ll likely turn around as the sounds will seem close enough and real.”

The ac­clima­ti­za­tion take time, he says.

VR hard­ware big­gies like Sony, HTC and Sam­sung have re­cently be­gun to woo the Chi­nese mar­ket ag­gres­sively, but Koo says his com­pany isn’t dis­tracted by the dig­i­tal war.

“The mar­ket will hard­ware (fa­cil­ity) is a bit ir­ra­tional. It’s too ad­ven­tur­ous to en­ter the mar­ket now,” says Koo.

There is a short­fall of qual­ity con­tent for VR in China to­day, so de­vel­op­ing the busi­ness slowly makes sense to him.

A reg­u­lar pair of VR glasses sells from 2,000 yuan ($300) to 6,000 yuan on ma­jor Chi­nese on­line stores, which Koo con­sid­ers steep for or­di­nary con­sumers.

But a so­lu­tion even if tem­po­rary.

At the same event, Youku launched its VR app for an­droid phones and said an app for Ap­ple phones will come soon. The an­droid app can up­load more than 20,000 short VR videos for view­ers who just need a pa­per or plas­tic box in which to place their cell­phones and broad­cast their own VR films.

“When good con­tent is pro­duced, more peo­ple will come into the in­dus­try and VR will be­come main­stream,” Koo tells China Daily. is in sight,

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