Conde Nast Eyes Digital Viewers with Virtual Reality, Scripted Shows

Technology Reuters

Privately held Conde Nast may best be known as the publisher of fashion, culture and lifestyle magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and GQ, but it is hoping to draw new consumers and advertisers through the realm of virtual reality.

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Conde Nast Entertainment (CNE), the publisher's film, television and video division, will unveil two original virtual reality series for the upcoming year at its Tuesday presentation before advertisers at the Newfronts, an annual digital content showcase in New York.

While the company is keeping tight-lipped on the details of the shows it will produce with virtual reality company Jaunt VR, one of which will be in a narrative reality format, it is the first major publisher to use the technology for serialized storytelling.

"We're speaking to some very impressive film makers to partner with us on this venture," said Dawn Ostroff, president of CNE. "The virtual reality space not only will allow the viewer to become more engaged, it'll make them more immersed."

Print publishers have been ramping up their online video content in an attempt to draw digital consumers to their brands and revive interest from advertisers. Conde Nast's digital audience has now surpassed its print audience, the company said.

The two series will air on CNE's The Scene, launched a year ago and home to 2,500 original videos created in 2014 by Conde Nast's brands as well as partners such as ABC News and Buzzfeed.

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The Scene is available on multiple platforms such as Apple TV, Roku and its website, and CNE said it is developing smartphones apps.

The options for viewing virtual reality are still limited, with only Samsung's Galaxy Gear VR headset and Google's Cardboard VR devices available, both to use with smartphones.

But Jens Christensen, founder and chief executive officer of Jaunt VR, said virtual reality will be part of the mainstream smartphone experience. The content being made for CNE is likely to have an option to view without a virtual reality device as well.

"Imagine being on the front row of a fashion show, or at a red carpet event, that'd be very compelling to people," he said.

DIGITAL DRAWS ADVERTISERS, MILLENNIALS

CNE will also unveil new scripted series "The Tyler Zone," starring actor Danny Pudi from the TV show "Community," in association with 20th Century Fox, and comedy group The Lonely Island, which will air exclusively on The Scene.

"The Tyler Zone," a sci-fi comedy about a man experiencing bizarre phenomenon in a small town, is an example of how CNE is hoping to develop TV-quality programming that doesn't necessarily overlap with its print audience.

In 2014, CNE said it had 1.8 billion views of its original videos and averaged 17 million U.S. viewers a month, excluding mobile and some syndication viewers.

For advertisers, digital is not only cheaper - about half of standard print advertising rates - but also reaches a much larger audience, especially among Millennials, said Jenny Schauer, associate media director at marketing agency DigitasLBi.

CNE will produce more than 2,500 videos in the next year, more than any other publisher, the company said. It will also add ten new content partners, including Billboard, Pitchfork and The Onion.

"There isn't very much overlap between people who are watching digital video and people who read all our magazines," Ostroff said. "We're able to go into a different medium and introduce our brand to different audiences."

(By Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)