The curtain is about to rise on the first act of Hulu in virtual reality.
The streaming-video company’s VR app will be available next month when the $99 Gear VR headset from Samsung goes on sale, according to the Hulu’s head of distribution, Tim Connolly.
“We’re ready to go,” Connolly said.
When the Los Angeles-based company announced the VR effort in September, it said the app would be available in the US during the fall season, with no specific time frame.
Hulu is one of several major digital video providers, including Netflix and YouTube, that is supporting virtual reality with content. The format has long been a mainstream curiosity seen as a niche part of technology. But VR could be hitting the mainstream, as social network behemoth Facebook throws its weight behind the format with Oculus and low-price devices like the Gear VR headset become available.
Hulu is also considering commissioning original series that are purely virtual reality without a “2D” element, Connolly said in an interview Friday on the sidelines of the New York Media Festival. Hulu is owned by traditional TV giants Disney, 21st Century Fox and Comcast.
The company is already dabbling in VR. It’s producing a VR short film called “The Big One,” created by YouTube creator Freddie Wong made alongside his upcoming Hulu original series. Another project is an immersive environment created to watch Hulu’s catalog of 2D video — like watching a traditional episode of “Seinfeld” as though sitting in protagonist Jerry’s apartment.
“We think this is a smart bet that helps position us as an innovator and helps us learn earlier on what could be a substantive storytelling environment,” he said.
However, most of Hulu viewing, Connolly noted, is happening where TV has always thrived: in the living room. About 70 percent of Hulu viewing is on a television, he said, either through a console, streaming device or a smart TV that directly connects to the Internet. Of that TV viewing, Hulu customers use Roku’s products the most.
But live video, a staple of TV for decades, isn’t in Hulu’s immediate future, Connolly said. “We’re in ‘if’ mode” when considering live programming, he said, saying live content isn’t a foregone conclusion. This week, Bloomberg reported that Amazon is exploring a live pay-TV service, and Apple has been negotiating with networks to develop a similar product.