Hitting the Rooftop
BY Georgi R. Chakarov
Rooftop Content Group is a relatively young company which started as a format creator and distributor of Film and TV content and only recently expanded into the fast-growing VR market by launching Rooftop Immersive Studio which focuses on VR/AR/360o content. Georgi R. Chakarov talked with Co-MDs Jordi van Even and Jan Maarten Groen about the challenges of combining TV and VR production and distribution and the “Wild West” that the VR industry still is. Georgi was also curious to find out more about the mysterious project The Ark which is all set to shake things up in the world of storytelling and viewer experience.
Jordi van Even, Joint Managing Director, Rooftop Content Group
Jan Maarten Groe, Joint Managing Director, Rooftop Content Group

Jordi, Jan Maarten, the latest news that we heard from you the announcement of the splitting of the company in two. What were the strategic goals behind this decision?
Jordi van Even: The whole idea behind Rooftop’s founding in 2014 was to get into IP development and production and use our strong distribution network, to offset the acquired/developed IP. For the last few years we’ve focused mostly on distribution, as this was straightforward, whereas production takes more time. Then, last year we really got into Virtual Reality, not only from an egocentric point of view (I love it) but also from a business POV. VR is here to stay, it’s the future, and soon AR will also be part of our everyday lives. Jan Maarten, who has a track record in traditional media as well, was already working in VR and since we had a good business relationship, 1+1 made 2. He joined Rooftop and we put our heads together and split the company in two, forming Rooftop Immersive Studio (RIS) and Rooftop Film & TV - both focusing on Production and Distribution, but RIS more in the VR/AR/360 world.

What type of content are you focusing on?
Jan Maarten: Our strength is to specialize with production but be as versatile as possible when it comes to distribution. We partner with niche producers, such as our friends at Zoomsport, whose FC Barca documentary Take the Ball, Pass the Ball we distribute worldwide, and with whom we are announcing some exciting sport productions at MIP. But from a distribution standpoint, we need to be able to react as quickly as possible to the demands of our worldwide clients. We extend this strategy to Immersive Studio where we are already aggregating a wide range of VR content (interactive and 360) for major players, thereby providing a business model to what’s still the Wild West out there. But from a production point of view, we focus on shared VR experiences, mostly LBE (location based experiences), eliminating the individuality of VR.

Are you also focused on content technology development, so to say, tools which will allow creation of such content?
Jan Maarten: We are not a technology company, we are commercial content creators, and although for certain experiences, we will have to be innovative, because the existing technology needs to be adapted (we do have the best qualified tech guys in-house). We are focusing more on engagement with the characters and the story behind the experiences. So in some cases, we use technology to have the audience influence the story or show but the viewer’s experience and perception leads, always.

But you do have the Domes. What actually happens inside them? How hard is it to build them and are they related to The Ark?
Jordi: What happens in the Domes, depends on the concept itself, same with the size. It can be from a couple of people to over a thousand. Sometimes we use the Dome purely as a setting, and sometimes it becomes an interactive piece of art, part of the whole experience. Most importantly, we use Domes because of the shared experience it provides.

The Domes are not directly related to The Ark, although with certain projects in The Ark’s pipeline, we might use a Dome as a venue. The Ark is a separate company, with whom we have a solid partnership as co-producer and distributor. It’s a VR spectacle, an immersive live entertainment format that offers a new way to experience storytelling. It allows the audience to interact and influence the show in real time while experiencing an existence between reality and virtual reality. Since the audience is co-creating the show, every show is different. The Ark’s format is applicable to existing or original IP, and its upcoming pipeline is already very impressive.

I saw some posts on Instagram about The Ark - is it actually happening in New York?
Jordi: We will be launching some cool micro-experiences soon in NYC, I can’t say too much yet, but this all fits within the mystery surrounding The Ark. This format is such a ground-breaking, new entertainment experience, that it deserves this approach. People will be blown away by its execution. What we can say is that we have all the major players interested.

When Ericsson released their report about VR killing TV, one of the main lines there was that actually VR users expected they would get an experience where they don’t need a screen anymore. So, is your content actually more oriented in this direction?
Jordi: We don’t see VR as a replacement of any medium. We see VR as an enhancement, a way to enlarge experiences, emerging truly into the content. No, our content is not oriented in this direction. It’s focused on engaging the audience. Most of the VR experiences out there are amazing, but they don’t leave a mark, it’s not like with a good movie, that you come out of the cinema and you talk about it for hours. For example, the existing location-based VR experiences, with some exceptions, you go there, you’re super impressed by the graphics, the tracking, the potential, but then you come out, and you forget about them. This is different with our concepts, and especially The Ark. People will remember and talk about the experience, and more importantly, they will want to come back. Plus, on top of that, we are adding a great business model, which is also lacking with some amazing experiences out there.

Can you also mention some of the other key projects you are working right now on?
Jan Maarten: Within Immersive Studio, there is of course The Ark, but also dome concepts for some major festivals and other key events/markets. Info to follow soon. Furthermore, we are distributing exciting concepts like Exodus Burned, the next level full body multi-player VR experience. Within Film & TV, we have the release of the Barça doc coming up in October. We are announcing a couple of TV series, like A Game of Two Halves (Zoomsport), about former soccer stars, who switched the football pitch for a totally different pastime and we have started pre-sales for a few astonishing documentaries. We have our own stunt reality show, How Sparks Fly. We are also publishing a graphic novel early next year. We are always focused on creating new IP’s, that can go beyond just one medium.

You announced in May a deal with AMC Networks International, what does it include and what do you do actually for them, and do you have any other deals in that direction?
Jan Maarten: We’re aggregating VR clips for AMC Networks International on a monthly basis. Yes, we are in test phase with a couple of other similar deals. Again, we’re trying to provide a business model to the Wild West of VR distribution. So many great experiences are being made but then what? Where do you see them, where do you make money? That’s where we come in - we have the international network.

How big is the competition in your business? You say there is a lot of talent but there is not much investment, not everyone is sure what actually is happening, so how do you balance between those?
Jordi: The competition in production is rising fast, but at the end it’s all about execution. There is a lot of investment, but yes, since there’s been a lack of revenue with some VR experiences which are in the market now some investors might be a bit reluctant. But at the same time, other investors are focusing on the fact that they are on the foreground of something new. We are building an interesting group of strategic investors, some in-kind, some equity. Furthermore, all of our experiences have an incredibly lucrative ROI, especially our Location Based Experiences which are taking returns to a next level.

Apart from stories, what segment do you think could actually drive the business? For example, recently there was this announcement about NewTV getting one billion dollars of investments - could mobile be the thing that would drive things further?
Jordi: Mobile as in people watching 360 clips on their mobile? Partly yes, you see mobile operators are already stepping up the game, with new apps. Maybe it’s more for Asia, rather than Europe the future will tell. In any case, the technology is getting there, the content is missing. It’s all about content in the end. In the meantime, besides mobile we are focusing on LBE and VR as second screen (during concerts for example, or at home).

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