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Genvid Holdings has raised $113 million to fuel massive interactive live events such as the upcoming Project Raven.
If you’re wondering what massive interactive live events (MILEs) are, then you’re not alone. They’re part-game, part-TV show. Genvid gave us a taste of it this spring with Rival Peak, an online show on Facebook where spectators could determine the fates of 12 AI characters who competed against each other in a Survivor style show. Rival Peak surpassed more than 100 million minutes watched for its first 12-week season.
The show got 200 million engagements over 13 simultaneous 24-hour, seven-day-a-week livestreams as well as a weekly wrap-up show hosted by actor Will Wheaton. Rival Peak was a new kind of interactive experience that was partly a game and partly a reality TV show.
This is what enabled New York-based Genvid Holdings, the parent of Genvid Technologies, to raise the new round of money. CEO Jacob Navok said in an interview with GamesBeat that the success of Rival Peak has inspired a new business where Genvid will become a publisher of MILEs in the future.
Project Raven takes the MILE concept into horror films and games.
“It was a very competitive funding round. The main impetus of this round is the fact that we’re going to be building a publisher,” Navok said. “Until now, we’ve been primarily providing tools and technologies and services. In cases like Rival Peak, we weren’t set up to produce that content. We were asked to produce it, and we did produce it [along with Pipeworks]. And so what we wanted to do was formalize the direction that our clients were already taking us into, and building [publishing capability] would allow us to build out our vision for MILEs.”
The next MILE
The next game-like event is Project Raven, which the company revealed today in a concept trailer. It features young adults stuck in a cabin in the woods, and they’re being stalked and hunted by zombies. It’s a horror show, or horror game, and the audience can help affect the fates of the humans as they fend off the zombies.
“This is our concept for what the next generation of content is going to look like,” Navok said. “We call it Project Raven. It feels like you’re playing a game. But instead of being a game that you’re playing by yourself, it’s with millions of other people concurrently live. We’re also going to be investing heavily into social features around these titles. So you know, Rival Peak was primarily a solitary experience. Most of the engagement came from watching the weekly TV show. In the future products, you will be able to create characters in the overlay and send them into the streets and see them realized in 3D and bid against other users for what should appear next.”
The Project Raven video is scary and it should get the emotions of spectators going much better than Rival Peak. Navok acknowledged that.
“You should expect storylines that look and feel like living television, living movies, living comic books,” Navok said.
So far, Project Raven is a concept, but there will soon be real projects in the works.
Help from Netflix
Project Raven is the kind of show you would expect from the likes of Netflix, which created a choose-your-own-adventure style show with Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. And it’s no surprise that Genvid added Netflix executive Cindy Holland, vice president of original content, as an adviser. Holland will assist Genvid with content strategy and acquisition. But Navok said he could not say more about what’s coming with Raven or who else will be involved in it.
Netflix revealed yesterday that it had hired Mike Verdu, an Oculus and Electronic Arts veteran, as vice president of game development. I don’t know about you folks, but I’m starting to see the connections here, where MILEs could be a new expression of transmedia, or taking one IP across multiple media like games or TV shows.
“Cindy led the interactive films such as the creation of Bandersnatch at Netflix, and all their interactive shows. We’re very, very excited to have her expertise,” Navok said.
As a publisher, Navok said the company will produce content that works with large original content based on IP licenses. In some cases, major platforms will host the content, and in some cases, Genvid may self-finance the content and take it direct to consumers.
“We didn’t have a direct-to-consumer label and direct-to-consumer arm and account system or any of the things that you would expect from anybody who’s producing content of the level of users that Rival Peak got,” Navok said. “I’m not building internal studios.”
Navok is modeling his publishing company more after Scopely, which works with a lot of internal and external studios. The company raised a lot of money because Rival Peak had an “eight-figure” budget, and such MILEs aren’t cheap to make, Navok said.
Navok said that the company sees an opportunity to merge “lean back” entertainment such as TV and livestream spectating with “lean in” interactive entertainment like games in order to fully monetize new and existing fans for intellectual properties.
“We wouldn’t have done this if there wasn’t demand,” Navok said. “I also looked at other tech businesses in games” and he saw that many of the tech companies aren’t as successful as the game companies themselves. As an example, Epic Games makes far more money from Fortnite than it does from the Unreal Engine technology.”
Combined with $33 million raised in two earlier rounds, Genvid has now raised a total of $166 million since its founding in 2016. Existing
investors Valor Equity Partners and Atreides Management co-led the round.
New investors Third Point Ventures, Cobalt Capital, LightShed Ventures, XN, and Lux Capital participated in the latest round alongside Genvid’s existing investors Galaxy Interactive, Horizons Ventures, OCA Ventures (via OCA’s new growth equity fund), and Makers Fund.
Strategic investment partners Huya, NTT Docomo Ventures, and Samsung Ventures are also participating.
“The investors we brought in showcase a lot of media strength,” Navok said. “We’ve had a lot of game content and technology investors.”
Navok said the new funding will be used in large part to establish Genvid Entertainment, a new publishing subsidiary dedicated to producing MILEs, following the success of the Genvid-enabled Facebook exclusive Rival Peak, which was built by Pipeworks for Genvid.
Genvid Entertainment will produce and publish MILEs via licensing of major intellectual properties beginning later this year.
Facebook bankrolled Rival Peak. But for the future, as a publisher, Genvid could take on multiple clients and multiple intellectual properties that Genvid could turn into MILEs.
“We really had to formalize an organization to enable that,” Navok said.
While Genvid is becoming a publisher, Navok said it isn’t necessarily a pivot driven by failures in the original plan. The vision from 2016 is still the same, Navok said. Now, instead of being a pure technology provider, the company will also have the ability to internally publish content directly for consumers.
“That doesn’t change the technology we’re going to invest heavily into,” Navok said. “The tech side is a major part of our business and our business opportunity. But we are leaning into existing demand that we’ve gotten from the IP holders, from the media companies, from the tech platforms who have asked us not just to provide tech, but to basically shepherd the whole experience.”
Navok said the company is working on a “slate of content” that will be announced in the coming months from IP holders or platforms.
The change toward publishing means Genvid will have to hire people. It has more than 100 today and it could be more than 200 people by this time next year, Navok said.
He noted that companies that combine technology and content, like how Epic Games does with the Unreal Engine and Fortnite, is a good model for a successful game company in the future.
“With the tools we’ve generated so far with Genvid, we can drive revenue through the publishing label and the partnerships that we’re going to have from it, and I think we’ll end up with a flywheel that looks similar to Epic’s,” Navok said. “I call it more like Unity plus Scopely. But for interactive publishing.”
As for the metaverse, Genvid is looking at enabling many many people to share the same experience, much like people watching the Travis Scott concert in Fortnite at the same time. So the metaverse — something that Navok cares deeply about — will definitely play a role in Genvid’s future, particularly as it creates more MILEs for so many more people.
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