How Syfy is using virtual reality in real life

October 8, 2015, 9:07 PM UTC
Courtesy of Syfy

Syfy debuted its The Expanse VR app at San Diego Comic Con in July and continues to expand the virtual reality offering at New York Comic Con this week.

The cast and creators of the upcoming TV series will hand out 800 Google Cardboard VR sets to attendees at the Javits Center Oct. 8 panel, which promotes the 10-episode sci-fi series that premiers Dec. 14. That’s on top of the 13,000 Cardboards that were distributed in San Diego to Comic Con attendees.

Matthew Chiavelli, senior vice president of digital at Syfy, says VR is a technology the network has been watching closely for a while, waiting for the right property to create a VR experience for.

That property is The Expanse, a show set 200 years in the future after humanity has colonized the solar system. Based on the New York Times bestselling book series by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the show stars Thomas Jane and Steve Straight as a detective and rogue ship’s captain as they investigate the case of a missing young woman that has far-reaching consequences.

The VR app, which is available for iOS and Android devices, takes users on a 360-degree tour of the massive ice freighter Canterbury from the show. Recent additions to the app allow fans to do a close flyby of two massive spacecraft seen in the series: Tycho Station, the largest largest mobile space platform in the solar system, and The Nauvoo, a two-kilometer long Mormon missionary ship currently under construction.

The VR content is also available on YouTube 360. Chiavelli says Syfy is actively working to support more VR platforms like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR in the near future.

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Digital Domain worked with IM360 on the VR project, which is the result of a joint venture between Syfy and NBCUniversal Media Labs. Chiavelli says VR allows the network to show off the detailed production design of The Expanse in an immersive way that lets fans point the “camera” at whatever they want to focus on.

“This is something that’s sometimes lost in conversations about VR,” Chiavelli says. “At its core, all VR is truly interactive since multiple people can choose to experience the same piece of content in their own unique way.”

Clifton Dawson, CEO of research firm Greenlight VR, believes these types of VR marketing campaigns are extremely important for introducing mainstream consumers to virtual reality.

“We know these types of marketing tactics can also be very effective with consumers,” Dawson says, referencing a recent U.S. consumer survey that was done in conjunction with Touchstone Research. “The overwhelming majority of the 2,300 consumers demonstrated enthusiasm when we asked them how they’d feel if they were given a Google Cardboard headset to for viewing a VR brand experience.”

That’s good news for Syfy and NBCUniversal.

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