Ian Nelson: 5G is Gonna Mean a Ryot for VR
Growing up with Southern California in his backyard, Ian Nelson chose to go into the entertainment industry, a decision that seemed almost inevitable. Though he had a true, deep love for film, he soon felt that Hollywood was not as innovative a sector as he wanted and so made the leap to immersive. In this episode, Ian shares with us how he went from some of the most renowned Industry companies to Ryot Studios (right after Jaunt) and also lets us in on how 5G will shake things up for immersive.
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Justine: Hi, welcome back, VR makers and shakers, Justine Harcourt de Tourville Editor-in-Chief of VRTL here. And in this episode we’re going to be talking with Ian Nelson, someone who grew up in the cradle of Hollywood. And after a few first steps in the industry, Sata more cutting edge approach to films and story, that path, lead him to Ryot of rise in immersive media company where he will be talking with us about what the future holds for VR, especially with the advent of 5G among other things. So here we go. Welcome Ian. Thank you for hosting. It’s really exciting to be here at Ryot studios. So how did you end up in immersive? What’s a little quick overview of your career path?
Ian: Yeah, so I went to USC, University of Southern California right here in Los Angeles and had an amazing experience. That was what brought me first into entertainment as a concept and as a career path. That was my first step was interning at places like Disney, Paramount Vantage before it got shut down as well as William Morris Endeavor, the talent agency and that was my last internship before I graduated. They brought me back in for a full time job. And so that’s what sort of opened the doors to immersive as a concept. I spent about three and a half, four years there where I was just working in the trenches, figuring it out in terms of, Hey, what is this? And for movies get made. How did, how to television shows get made, you know, what do each individual crew or cast, what do they, what do they do? How do they get paid? You know, really interesting questions. But over time, as I started there in the motion picture department I knew that film was amazing. It was my passion. I love watching movies. I’m still a cinephile to this day, but it’s an art form in a medium that is, I think, to me more special than the actual industry. The industry itself is maturing at a pace that I, I wouldn’t say concern me, but it was maturing at a pace that I didn’t see myself there. Longterm is regular film cinema. Yup. Yeah. 2D cinema. Okay. Yep. I always have to sort of delineate 2D versus 3D. and I, I just knew that as much as I loved that as an art form that I, I really wanted a job that I would say blurred the lines.
Ian: Um, you know, still kept that ethos of, of creative spirit and storytelling and cinema to a degree. Um, but also was 21st century in the way that it was being produced. As 21st century in the way that people consumed it. the, the issue with film right now is that there is such a drop in terms of theatrical, you know, people don’t really go to the theaters as much to see movies these days. Um, and you have people like Steven Spielberg who, you know, I look, I love his work, but he doesn’t think that Netflix movies should be able to compete in film festivals like Cannes. And so you
Justine: Or the academy, right? I think he’s trying to exclude them from, from the Oscars.
Ian: Totally. Yeah. He like, I get it because you want to save the dying art. But when consumer habits are changing in such a way that people are no longer interested in watching long form at a specific venue you have to find new ways to bring them back. And I didn’t see innovation happening in film or TV to be honest, in the same way that I see that happening in immersive and in other forms of just technology in general. So while I was at WME and the motion picture department, I said, you know what? I want to explore what else is out there that is at that intersection of entertainment and technology. And so I was fascinated by Apple and Spotify and you know, at the time, neither of them had real entertainment offerings. And now they have dawn Ostroff at a for, at Spotify who runs all of the content. And Apple hired those execs from Sony Television, and they have a full fledged offering that they’re supposedly going to announce in the next couple of months. and it was, it was just too new for them. Um, but VR, you know, that was, I believe when I was first interested in VR that was 2015 so I’m the acquisition by Facebook of Oculus was that year.And I think that was a moment where everyone said, Whoa, what is going on here? This is fascinating. I hadn’t even seen any content on oculus before. Except for all of these videos you find on youtube of people that were losing their minds and almost getting vertigo because they saw like a rollercoaster experience and they’re falling on the ground. And it was crazy. And I think that for me was fascinating because it was a sort of show don’t tell. And so I knew that VR was interesting, but at the time there really wasn’t any opportunity or jobs. Right at that kind of perfect moment, I found out that Jaunt was opening up a studio in Los Angeles. And so I was one of the first LA hires to, to help build it out. They were looking for someone with Hollywood experience and I was coming straight from an agency. I was working with a couple people that also had all the Hollywood experience, including the president of the studio at the time and my direct boss who became Head of Content go ahead of the studio. Um, and so it was a great opportunity. Um, it was the early days of VR where it was money flowing like crazy. And so we’re all just focused on investing in content. And so that was very exciting.
Justine: Oh, well that certainly does sound exciting when the money’s flowing and, and things like that are happening. And then when did you, while you were at Jaunt for three years?
Ian: So from, yeah, so from 2015 to 2018. So late last year I moved over here to Ryot. Um, which is of rise and media company. When I was at Jaunt it was, it was the right around the time where VR companies knew that they needed to have a business rather than just an idea.
Ian: Yeah, exactly. and we, you know, we, we knew that, but we also I think the industry as a whole for a while was a little bit in denial as to how slow the the pickup was and for headsets and for user base. To be honest, I think that a lot of projections were just wildly overhyped, domestic and totally people thought that there was going to be, I don’t even remember the exact figures, but there was a Goldman Sachs article or a study that came out right around the time that I joined Jaunt that got us all very excited and has, since I haven’t double checked with the numbers are, but I’m sure that that report is totally inaccurate at this point. But if you were to sort of look at it in a vacuum now, we should have known that everything was overhyped. Now I actually feel really good about where the industry is because it’s where it should be in terms of its lifespan. You know, we, we gave too much stress and pressure on an art form and a technology that had only existed for two, two and a half, three years, and we expect it to be the next. We were expecting it to be sliced bread and it was just absurd because you needed, you didn’t even know that you had at the time. And now we know what you can do. And so that’s why you see some pretty amazing stuff that it’s not even wireless yet. And that’s where I’m getting really excited it is because you’re talking about in 2015, um something that, you know, the Oculus headset that was basically two Samsung led screens that were hacked together by Palmer and, you know, the, those folks, and they had to productize it.
Ian: They had to be, they had to create this whole platform. And I’m, I guess I’m just talking about Oculus here for a second, that it could a whole platform. Um, they had to push it into an ergonomically positive experience, which it barely is now. Yeah. I barely will give them a little bit of credit. Yeah. Um, to where we’re going to be looking in the next couple months with the the oculus quest that’ll be fully wireless. You don’t have to have any tethered computer. It’s pretty amazing. You know, I remembered telling people in 2016 that VR would take five, six, seven years to have a wireless untethered experience and I was wrong by, you know, half of that. So, okay.
Justine: Good thing that’s the right side to be wrong.
Ian: Sure. No, yeah, of course. I’d much rather be addressed rather be too conservative I guess in that sort of prediction. But but that’s what gets him really excited because when you, when you were faced with such ergonomic challenges and you know, just comfort issues for the first couple of years then it’s tough for the creative to shine because a lot of people sort of interpret the uncomfortability with their overall experience. Yeah. And they conflate the two. And look, if movies, sitting in a theater is incredibly comfortable and so you can probably tolerate much worse product for that reason. And so that’s where the pressure came on so hard on the content side. I would argue that now we have some pretty amazing content and the hardware is improving at a such a much more rapid pace. So we’re, we’re already at a place where, you know, my favorite experience in VR is Astrobotic. Like, it’s, I don’t know if you’ve tried it, but it’s the place. It’s literally like the best experience ever. It’s Mario. but if you were sort of a robot collecting other robots it just, the way it plays with scale, the way it plays with the why you need to be in a headset, it’s really special. It’s one of the first VR experiences where I felt that I really wanted to come back for more. Um, and look, we were producing and investing in VR and you know, we today at Ryot here still do a lot of the same and you know, produce other people’s content. But that I think stands on a tier above everything else because you just, you just need it to be in VR. And so that is what the, that came out in 2018. So that’s three years after the very public acquisition. you know, the $2 billion sale of Oculus to Facebook. Now we’re seeing some, some really special moments shining. Um, and that’s where I get really excited about the future.
Justine: Well, I’m speaking about the future and, and Verizon and for our global listeners, Verizon is one of the largest telecoms here in the United States. I’m not sure if
Ian: they’re actually the largest. Yeah, well it is the logical quibble about A&T versus Verizon, but yeah, in the United States it’s, it’s primarily those two with T-mobile, on distant third.
Justine: Okay. And but do you see, how do you see that interplay of Verizon a telecom 5G is very important to Verizon. How is that going to affect VR and it’s a consumption? Yeah.
Ian: So I think there’s some, some pretty clear paths to some, so some success you know, there was just news recently about Qualcomm trying to push a VR headsets to have incorporate 5G chips. Um, and so what you’re gonna see is as the headsets become untethered, then there’s going to be a growing interest and need to incorporate 5G and 5G is really the advent or that sort of the next generation of wireless technology. And so the way that we all think about it as that, you know, 1G the single G that’s just voice, you know, that’s being able to pick up someone, pick up a phone call and be able to talk. And you know, it’s the old rotary phones. It’s pretty classic. 2G is SMS texting, you know, being able to text a, a colleague or a friend. 3G is data. So if you think about blackberry is and you know, old school phones where you can send an email, browse the internet, but it’s, it’s a very clunky experience. In 4G is when a video was possible streaming Netflix you know, streaming all sorts of OTT platforms that now exist, you know, they, the, the growing push and need towards that was really brought by 4G because if your quippy, which is Jeffrey Katzenberg 2D short form digital streaming service, you’re not going to, you’re never going to operate in a world where the most you could do is send an SMS text on your data network. Right? So 5G, which will be rolled out in the US later. It’s actually already around, but it’s not going to be mobile for mobile carriers yet until later this year. It will bring a whole host of other opportunities you know, here at Verizon media or Ryot, you know, we’re really excited about immersive as one of the primary use cases.
Ian: Anything 3D is incredibly data intensive. It requires render farms occasionally are sort of the, the in in the way that 3D was produced to date. It does require, you know, very complex rendering. But we know that now we can do a lot of that via game engines. You know, you have Unity and Unreal, which are incredible software that allow you to do a lot. you have AR kit, the Apple AR tracking software and Google’s AR core which allow you to track the real world with simultaneous location and mapping. Um, and so you are able to do quite a lot with the technology in your phone. But with 5G then you can add the added benefit of being able to leverage mobile edge computing. Um, which means that you can offload the rendering and offload the processing of the 3D objects or of the 3D world onto a near cloud. So that the antenna that’s serving you, the 5G signal basically has a computer and that computer has a CPU and a GPU. So you don’t have to run unity on your phone, you can run it up in the cloud and your phone is sort of like a dumb phone and that just handles the tracking of your world environment,
Justine: Which is great for battery life. They totally you know, not making your phone prematurely ancient
Ian: So there’s some good stuff there. Totally. And, and, but on a, on the VR side of things you know, we’re, we’re going to see the Oculus Quests come out later this year and, and you could see a world where, you know, maybe it’s the next generation if you want it to have a more sleek headset that you could take out of your home, then a 5G signal is really important because when you’re at home Wifi, probably sufficient.
Ian: But if you wanted to do like an open world VR experience where your experience in a park versus your experience at home are going to be two very different things right now. Maybe that’s a, a combination of mixed reality where you have a pass through camera and you can sort of see things in your world versus being fully opaque when you’re out, when you need to be. Um, you know, that is going to require a 5G signal. Um, because you have a greater bandwidth need, you have a greater need for low latency, both of which 5G is the real promise
Justine: And for creators, is this going to be a big deal in terms of when they get to them, you know, technology, the stitching and all of the things. Is this going to make it easier for them?
Ian: Yeah. So if you’re talking about like three 60 video that I think that the, it’s probably less of a creator solve. It’s probably more of a consumer solve because, yeah, because those files are pretty large. The file of a five minute, 360 video is, I mean, when at Jaunt, we were also looking at files that were, you know, multiple gigs for five minutes. And that’s basically a 2D HD video that’s an hour and a half or two hours. Right.
Justine: Consumers don’t have the patience.
Ian: No, totally. They definitely don’t. and so from a consumer perspective, we’ll be able to deliver a lot on the production side. One of the things that we’ve been testing a lot here at Ryot is you know, we have a 5G enabled motion capture studio that also has we’ve also had, we also have some volumetric capture as well as like a live green screen replacement solution where you can have a animated characters or an animated scene with a live Tuesday person. And those things that do sort of blend the lines of 3d and 2D those can have some pipeline improvements or around a 5G. Um, but I think 5G in general will be a boon to consumers. And so if you think about the, the technologies or the companies that, that were created out of 4G like Uber, you just couldn’t do that in a world where a, you’re again, where your phone can only send a text message at best. Um, so it’s, it’s hard to say, but it’s gonna we think it’s going to change a lot.
Justine: So are there other kinds of predictions or things that you’re foreseeing in the VR industry related or not related to, to Ryot or Verizon projections? No, but I mean I would just say or things that you’re you know, that sparked your interest about what could possibly happen in the future for VR.
Ian: Yeah. You know, what I’m personally fascinated by is the, the combination of physical and digital. I like all of these experiences that you, I’ve seen recently coming out of film festivals where you have a physically tracked person and a, when you’re in the headset, you see a digital environment, but then you also see a physically tracked person that appears as if there were a ghost or a dragon or whatever character they need to be in that moment. Um, and where that I think really shines is that you get that sense of presence because you’re with a physical person that can touch you and you can see them touch you. So you don’t really have to you know, go into this, make believe world with another person and then have it be a little fake because hey, look, maybe they’re the animation’s a little off or maybe they don’t look like real people.
Ian: You can you know, assume some, some disbelief here when you get touched and you, you have the sense of what like, wow, I’m, I’m really here and whatever’s happening is totally happening. That to me is sort of that blend of it. When we always talked about VR, it was, it was the blend of film games as well as immersive theater. And so that to me is where immersive theater as an element really shines. I love Sleep No More. It’s an incredible immersive theater experience based out in New York that was brought over from, from the UK. And I think that where VR can really provide some incredible utility to consumers who want to be pushing the bounds of, of narrative is how do you create an experience that leverages existing people or 2D people and potentially at scale.
Ian: So you know what if you do Sleep No More, which generally has a throughput of, I don’t know, it must be like a thousand people at night until they put through a lot of people in this space. What if everyone was wearing a VR headset? You know, what, what could we do there that you couldn’t do in the regular version of sleep no more. Um, and what I also think is really unique is that with immersive theater, a lot of times people say, well, your experience is not the same as whoever else that went through it with you. Because maybe I went through the blue room and you went through the red room. I would be really interested to see if we both went in that same experience, but we both were wearing our headsets. What if I’m seeing like the dragon’s layer and you’re seeing the place in the clouds, right? It’s, you could have the same inputs, but because the setting and it’s all built in a game engine, that setting is going to be wildly different and it could provide an incredibly different outcomes for you.
Justine: That’s true. What about in terms of distribution, do you see any new things happening on that horizon? Because getting content into the hands of users is the name of the game for VR right now.
Ian: Totally. Um, I think we’ve also gotten to the point where there’s so much content, there’s enough content that it’s, it’s almost back to curation. Um, but it’s, it’s I think distribution is hard. It’s really hard right now. Bacause we’re facing a lot of barriers. Um, you know, there’s that Ergonomic factor issue. There’s a cost to produce issue. So you know, the, I haven’t actually run the numbers, but I would be willing to bet that the cost to produce one minute of VR content is pretty high as a comparison to, it’s definitely much higher than digital video because we’ve seen those numbers. But I would say it’s probably close if not, you know, a coach encroaching how much it costs to produce a TV show. And when you think about the scale of what a TV show can provide in terms of the user base and the scale for VR victim, the minute per minute is not really comparable.
Ian: No. Yeah. The costs, the cost per minute is tough because when you’re, when you’re spending that much on production, then you want to have a higher viewership return. Um, but that’s where I think things will improve. The cost of produce will come down. It’ll make it a lot easier. Um, and then the next step, step two, you have to solve is how do we create a distribution platform that reaches consumers where they are in a way that is you know, very sort of native. Um, you know, I wouldn’t say that we were guilty of this at a prior company of presenting 360 video content in a format that felt so similar to Netflix or Hulu, that it almost begs the question of why. Um, and so the creative will need to come so that you as a consumer understands of why you need to access it.
Ian: One of the things that we think about here a lot at Ryot is every, everything that you do has utility. Um, if I’m a consumer, then there’s a utility to choosing TV versus a utility that choosing a game. So if I want to play in, if I want to be connected to other people instantaneously worldwide and I want to do a and a thrilling like challenge, then I’m probably going to want to choose Fortnite a game, then going into a movie, right? You wouldn’t want to watch Roma in that scenario because the utility that you derive out of is totally different than the utility you derive out of Fortnite. Um, so in as an alternative, we do have to think about what is the, what is the sort of utility that VR can bring as a form of entertainment? And there’s a ton of stuff that it can bring and provide that film and TV or even games in some capacity can’t. Yeah, totally. So what is that and how do you really dig into it in the way that you distributed as well? When you have both of those elements, then that’s where you can have a form of media that people get really excited about.
Justine: Well, thank you very much because in, you know, it’s exciting to listen to all the possibilities, especially what 5G will bring to us. And I want to thank you for letting us be here at Ryot today. Of course. It was great. Thanks.
BIO IAN NELSON
Ian Nelson is the Senior Manager of Business Development at RYOT, Verizon Media’s Emmy Award-winning content studio and innovation lab based out of Playa Vista, CA. In his role at RYOT, Ian oversees partnerships to develop products, formats and creative projects which leverage the power of Verizon’s 5G network. Prior to RYOT, Ian was the Content Acquisition & Programming Manager at Jaunt, an immersive content start up backed by The Walt Disney Company, Madison Square Garden and Evolution Media Partners.
RYOT Studio is Verizon Media’s in-house creative studio, spanning 15 countries. Ryot Studios is a team of recognized artists, writers, filmmakers and creative technologists collaborating with the world’s largest brands to connect audiences across Verizon Media properties and beyond.