Future tech

Baidu subsidiary iQiyi unveils ambitious virtual reality plan

Chinese government expects VR market to more than triple this year

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 May, 2016, 6:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 May, 2016, 6:40pm

Video streaming service provider iQiyi, a subsidiary of internet search giant Baidu, has unveiled an ambitious plan to establish the world’s largest Chinese-language virtual reality (VR) content platform.

At a conference in Beijing on Thursday, iQiyi’s senior management announced an aggressive 12-month effort that aims to see the company help hardware manufacturing partners sell 10 million VR headsets and mobile VR devices on the mainland, as well as produce at least 10 VR films and 100 VR games that will be free for all of its subscribers.

Tim Gong Yu, the founder and chief executive of iQiyi, said the company’s “expertise in online video and games will serve as a springboard [for us] to build up an open and complete industry [supply] chain that covers VR production, distribution and interaction”.

This cutting-edge technology still remains a futuristic concept to ordinary people in the absence of a VR content platform
Tim Gong Yu, iQiyi

“VR hardware development has made significant gains, but this cutting-edge technology still remains a futuristic concept to ordinary people in the absence of a VR content platform,” Gong said.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) predicted in a white paper it published last month that China’s VR consumer market would see explosive growth within a year.

It forecast the size of the domestic VR market to more than triple this year to reach 5.66 billion yuan (HK$6.76 billion), up from an estimated 1.54 billion yuan last year.

The number of people using VR content in China will exceed 1.4 million this year, according to estimates by iResearch.

The MIIT said China would also issue a series of regulations this year on content production, terminal displays and soft platform development.

At the conference, iQiyi launched its iVR+ set which consists of two apps and a new feature designed for all the head-mounted VR displays currently available in the market.

The company also introduced a VR partner incentive programme that will enable it to work with various VR video and game developers to make copyrighted online films, drama shows and games.

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As part of the scheme, iQiyi will provide marketing, production and other operational assistance to more than 300 partners involved in VR content and device manufacturing.

It expects the VR initiatives jointly developed by iQiyi and its partners will reach more than 10 million users in China over the next 12 months.

“China has the full potential to grow into the world’s biggest VR content supply and consumption market,” iQIYI senior vice-president Duan Youqiao said.

He declined to reveal the size of the investments involved in the company’s latest expansion effort.

Founded in 2010, iQiyi is now the largest video streaming player in China in terms of the number of users. It recorded 350 million users on personal computers and 275 million users via its mobile app as of March this year, according to iResearch.

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It was also announced on Thursday that iQiyi will put online concerts, travelogues, sports events, television situation comedy shows and various live broadcast programmes in VR format in the near future.

“Turning copyrighted novels and other works into VR productions is the best way to swiftly attract the attention of mainland users. You can see similar success in China’s movie market,” said Guo Huijuan, the chief operating officer at Beijing-based VR gaming developer Surreal Network and Technology.

Mainland competitors of iQiyi that are also pursuing VR activities include LeEco and Youku Tudou, which is owned by South China Morning Post owner Alibaba Group.

LeEco launched its own VR headset last month, while Youku Tudou is expected to announce a five-year VR development programme with Alibaba this month.