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Disney Bets on Virtual Reality With Investment in Startup Jaunt

Entertainment titan Disney seems to think that virtual reality is ready for the mass market.
September 21, 2015

Many tech companies–Facebook, Samsung, and Google, among others–are interested in the potential of virtual reality and investing heavily in the technology. Now entertainment companies are also staking claims. Disney has apparently led a $65 million round of funding into Jaunt VR, a startup which makes live-action virtual reality content and also offers a camera system for capturing 360-degree live-action videos.

For Disney, the move makes sense. Passive entertainment such as short films is likely to be among the first mass market applications for virtual reality. Jaunt has already made some waves in this area, releasing live-action, immersive films such as one of Sir Paul McCartney playing “Live and Let Die” in concert. Disney’s investment suggests that it thinks that the headsets coming soon from Facebook’s Oculus and its competitors are going to be good enough to become widely popular in the next couple years.

However, I’m guessing Disney is also interested in finding ways to incorporate the kind of content Jaunt makes into its theme parks. Disney has used virtual reality in its theme parks in the past, such as with its DisneyQuest theme park at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, which opened in 1998. It includes experiences like Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride, where visitors put on a virtual reality headset and sat on something like a stationary bicyle. But DisneyQuest is looking pretty retro and tired–so much so, in fact, that it’s closing down next year.

If Disney wants to try again with virtual reality, Jaunt might seem like an attractive company to work with. The startup, which was founded in 2013 and is based in Palo Alto, California, says the investment will help it to improve its cameras and production software, as well as add more employees at its home base and a new studio in Los Angeles. Jaunt has now raised over $100 million in funding.

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