Youku launches content drive amid digital war to woo viewers
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,