International Immersive Technology specialist, Kevin Williams of KWP, takes a look at the world of out of home entertainment and the vast potential it holds for the licensing industry.
The importance of brand licensing in the explosion of investment in the Out-of-Home entertainment sector has not been lost on anyone, with major new entertainment venue investments looking to marry with a strong, and recognisable IP fuelling this development.
The market is split into four dedicated aspects that have attracted much of this investment
Theme Park and Resorts
We have seen incredible development by the larger theme park operators towards embracing IP, merge with new attractions, and even theming complete zones of their parks. This is best illustrated by the market leader Walt Disney, who launched this year the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – a complete area of its parks thrown over towards a re-creation of the movie property.
A virtual arms race to attract the most popular properties, be in Universal partnering with video game company Nintendo – or Six Flags Entertainment, the world’s largest regional theme park company, partnering with Atari, the consumer game publisher, to license its real-world attractions into its ‘RollerCoaster Tycoon’ mobile game.
One of the aspects of the new investment in this sector has seen the owners of these properties looking to enter the market directly, rather than handing over their brand – directly operating divisions of their company towards placement and management of their properties into the Out-of-Home entertainment landscape.
The development of dedicated entertainment facilities that are based around a popular brand – offering a means for the audience to immersive themselves within brand or movie are a new area of investment. Described as LBE facilities, these are midscale entertainment experience flexible enough for deployment in malls as well as a standalone structure.
Recent developments in this approach seen with Lionsgate Entertainment, who has invested heavily into finding the right mix of partner and developer – in the face of cancelled projects, the company has successfully opened its ‘Lionsgate Entertainment World’ – the movie-themed vertical theme park, which opened at Hengqin Island in Zhuhai, China this year; a venue comprising attractions including virtual reality experiences based on elements from its movie portfolio.
Not just movie properties, but also toy brands have turned towards creating entertainment spaces wrapped in brand recognition. Hasbro International announced its entry into the world of family entertainment centres (FEC) with plans to open the first ‘Nerf Experience’ centre in Singapore. Meanwhile, Mattel has revealed plans to roll out its first ‘Mattel Play!’ indoor facility in Europe, with a Canadian site to follow.
On top of this, Cartoon Network has established several high profile partnerships to place its brands in this arena.
The ability to totally immerse the guest within a virtual re-creation of their favourite television and movie environments has become a viable possibility with the use of the latest immersive reality technology.
One of the most reported developers of this approach is The VOID – creating both standalone and pop-up virtual entertainment experiences. The company has received support and investment from Walt Disney and LucasFilm, allowing for the creation of VR adventures based on Star Wars and Wreck it Ralph. The company is now about to reveal a new VR experience based on the Avengers universe – and has even partnered with Sony Pictures to launch movie-based experiences.
Another developer of what are called Arena-Scale (free roaming) LBE VR environments is Sandbox VR – the Asian technology start-up has received considerable investment and following this announced a partnership with CBS Interactive towards developing a VR adventure based on the Star Trek universe.
And then there’s the developer Dreamscape Immersive, who has licensed ‘Men In Black: First Assignment’, with a schedule release for the end of the year.
Standalone Amusement & Attractions
Beyond the creation of dedicated theme park attractions, or specialist facilities – there is also the deployment of standalone hardware into existing entertainment venues that embrace the use of available IP.
Again, being led by VR technology, we have seen one of the leading providers of VR tethered enclosure systems, HOLOGATE, entering into licensing agreements with Sony Pictures and Rovio Entertainment, to bring ‘The Angry Birds Movie 2’ to their platform.
The ability for a game developer such as Rovio to widen the reach of their brands is seen in dedicated signings into the Out-of-Home entertainment landscape. Video game publisher Ubisoft has created its own new division that specialises in development in this arena.
Building on the popularity of Escape Rooms, Ubisoft Escape Games creates content that is based on its properties, with its first title ‘Escape the Lost Pyramid’, and new release ‘Beyond Medusa’s Gate’ – both based on the Assassin’s Creed game and movie universe.
Beyond immersive technology, the conventional amusement business, seeing a strong resurgence supplying hardware to the entertainment facility sector, have also embraced film and brand properties – such as developer Raw Thrills releasing licensed products – most recently with ‘HALO: Fireteam Raven” based on the Microsoft console-game franchise. But also licensing nostalgic properties.
Going full circle with new Videmption titles, reinterpretations of popular classic video arcade releases such as with ‘Centipede Chaos’ and ‘Space Invaders Frenzy’.
While many people are fixated on interactive entertainment only encompassing smartphones, consoles and PC gaming – there is also a new and growing landscape for immersive entertainment in the Out-of-Home entertainment sector. As seen from this incredibly brief overview this is a market that major brands and developers are taking incredibly seriously, and with continued investment and partnerships, one we will be hearing a lot more about.
About the Author – Kevin Williams – a specialist in the digital Out-of-Home entertainment industry, through his consultancy KWP Limited, specialising in interactive entertainment. Coming from a long career in the theme park, amusement and entertainment software industries, being an ex-Walt Disney Imagineer. Well known for his news service, The Stinger Report that has become a-must-read for those working or investing in the international market. He is also a prolific writer with regular columns for the main trade publications in this market, along with presenting numerous conference sessions on the sector and its global impact. He is also the co-author of the only book on this aspect of the market, “The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier” – currently working on the next edition, schedule for publication soon. Kevin can be reached at email@example.com.