Paramount Pictures and Bigscreen have partnered to create a virtual cinema for virtual films.

The two companies have collaborated with Oculus, Samsung, HTC, Microsoft and others to create a new platform, reports Deadline.  It could equally be considered a new distribution window.

The project trials on December 3rd.  Consumers with any brand of VR headset sign on at bigscreenvr.com.  They put on their headset and sit in a “cinema” in front of a huge screen.  They then watch the movie just as they would in a physical bricks and mortar cinema.  During the trial that movie will be Top Gun 3D.  For the following 24 hours and in 30-minute increments, VR headset users will be able watch the film for free.

It’s not just about watching a movie either.  Moviegoers have the experience of walking into the cinema and taking their seats.  They get to sit as part of a regular (if virtual) audience and can chat with fellow moviegoers before the movie.  They will even get to watch trailers before the main film.

“This is a good example of what happens when you collaborate with Silicon Valley,” says Tom Hayes, SVP New Media at Paramount.

If successful, the trial obviously has far wider larger implications for the film industry.

Hayes first discovered Bigscreen a year ago when it was an “enterprise productivity tool.”  He immediately saw its wider potential.  The two companies started developing the virtual cinema about six months ago.

“It launches a possible new platform for the film business,” says Hayes. “Obviously, you can add all sorts of bonus content with the filmmakers Q&A, games, trivia, for example, afterwards. There’s no limit to what we can do…  Here we are testing something that is a page turner in the history of media.”

Jim Gianopulos, Chairman and CEO of Paramount has been hinting that premium video on demand (PVOD) was “inevitable, in a period of months, not years” as consumers’ viewing habits have changed.  The film industry has been struggling with the closing of theatrical windows.  Although VR is still in its infancy, this shows other options to PVOD systems such as The Screening Room by bringing movies directly into the home.  It gives the added bonus of a big-screen experience.

Gianopulos said during an investor call in September that if the PVOD terms resulted in a big cut in exhibition sales, studios would “obviously” offer them “an enhanced revenue stream” incorporating cash from home viewing.

Paramount has several films scheduled to follow Top Gun in 2018. One possibility is Terminator 3D.

Bigscreen recently announced it had raised $11 million in Series A financing from investors. This brings its total financing to $14 million.  The company says that one particular use of the cinema is for ‘virtual date nights’ as couples in long-distance relationships relax and watch a movie together in a virtual cinema.

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