• Lowpass
  • Posts
  • Subscription video's new frontier: immersive entertainment

Subscription video's new frontier: immersive entertainment

Apple Vision Pro gets its first dedicated video service

Welcome to Lowpass. This week: The story behind SwanDive, a new video subscription service for immersive entertainment.

A quick housekeeping note: Some unforeseen personal commitments led me to send out a shorter newsletter this week, which is why I decided to take down the paywall and make the featured story available to all subscribers.


The story behind the immersive Immersive video subscription service SwanDive

With Meta’s Quest 3 and Apple’s Vision Pro headset rekindling interest in VR, there’s also some new momentum behind subscription video services expanding into immersive entertainment. Disney+ played a starring role in the Vision Pro launch, and Apple is producing spatial originals for Apple TV+. Now, a team of seasoned VR video producers is taking a bet on a standalone subscription service for immersive films.

Immersive subscription service SwanDive recently launched its app on the Vision Pro, where it offers subscribers access to a small but growing catalog of immersive films. New subscribers get three months of free trial, after which SwanDive charges them a monthly fee of $11.99. Pricing and other details could change over time though, said SwanDive CEO Fred Volhuer in a conversation with me this week. “SwanDive is an alpha (test) as we speak,” he said.

Immersive entertainment’s monetization problem. Hollywood and indie filmmakers alike have been intrigued by VR ever since the first Oculus Rift dev kit came out. Over the years, we’ve seen a number of companies embrace immersive storytelling – Google had Spotlight Stories, Facebook Oculus Studios, and numerous smaller studios produced amazing content as well – only to abandon them, or shutter altogether, a few years later.

The problem wasn’t just that the audience wasn’t there for these types of stories. Even as headset sales grew, studios had a hard time figuring out how to sell immersive video, and recoup their costs. The Quest store has essentially become a marketplace for apps and games, which is not the best environment to market immersive films. “It’s basically like asking a fish to climb a tree,” said Volhuer. “You know you are going to be disappointed by the results.”

The answer is an old one: subscriptions. “There is a strong belief that subscription is the way to go,” Volhuer told me. Or course, that has been tried before as well. Hulu, for instance, had its own immersive video initiative, producing originals that hardly anyone watched. And LA-based immersive entertainment studio WEVR launched a standalone subscription service called Transport in 2016 – years before there was a sizable audience for VR content of any kind.

That has changed, thanks in large part to Meta and its Quest headsets, which have sold north of 20 million units to date. Which begs the question: Why is SwanDive launching on the Apple Vision Pro with its comparably tiny footprint? Part of the reason is that it allows the startup to experiment before taking its service to the masses. Volhuer also told me that Apple’s focus on higher-quality video forces the company to push the boundaries before eventually bringing the service to the Quest and other platforms as well.

And finally, Volhuer was intrigued by Apple’s less game-centric, more entertainment-focused approach. “In terms of user experience, I personally always wanted people to be seated,” he said. “Leanback is really something that was needed. It’s a use case that’s under-exploited.”

In the end, it comes down to content. SwanDive isn’t starting in a vacuum. Volhuer and his team are also running immersive entertainment company Atlas V, which has been involved in the production of VR experiences like “Spheres,” “Notes on Blindness” and “Wallace & Gromit: The Grand Getaway.” Some of its titles, including “Ayahuasca” and “Battlescar” are already available via the SwanDive app, and Volhuer promised that the company would soon add newer titles from its network of partners as well.

Will that be enough to convince people to pay for yet another video subscription service? Within the wider video industry, there’s growing concern about subscription fatigue. Finding a dedicated audience of engaged fans can help, but there’s also a long list of failed niche subscription services, including Dramafever, Hidive and VRV. Then again, Crunchyroll, Britbox and Mubi are still going strong, and Volhuer is betting that SwanDive can be more like the latter than the former.

“You either believe that Netflix created ‘House of Cards,’ or that ‘House of Cards’ created Netflix,” he told me. “We think that ‘House of Cards’ created Netflix. If you are able to run a good show, then a subscription platform is going to work.”

Enjoy reading stories like this one? Then please consider upgrading to the $8 a month / $80 a year paid tier to support my reporting, and get access to the full Lowpass newsletter every week.


Future-proof your D2C streaming strategy with Cleeng at NAB

Did you know?

- 67% of broadcasters face monthly churn rates above 15%

- 80% anticipate churn to rise further

Cleeng's Subscriber Retention Management (SRM™) suite offers practical solutions to these industry challenges. Using our 4-part retention suite, we help you tackle rising churn rates and optimize your streaming platform. How?

- Core increases customer LTV by 15% annually using tailored upselling strategies

- Merchant achieves a 92% recurring payment approval rate

- ChurnIQ predicts churn with 95% accuracy

- Hi5 boosts customer satisfaction by up to 76% with specialized OTT customer support

Cleeng has worked with industry leading D2C services like the NFL, SBG, Optus Sport, the Weather Channel and Big Ten Network. Through our robust SaaS platform we can handle 3.6M transactions and 25M entitlement checks per hour, and integrate seamlessly in just three weeks.

Ready to future-proof your streaming strategy? Meet with us at NAB!

What else

Disney launches Hulu on Disney+. By bringing Hulu into the Disney+ app, Disney hopes to get people to bundle both in one subscription. Still, it’s a branding challenge. For instance, is FX on Hulu now FX on Hulu on Disney+?

Apple has reportedly struck a Vision Pro deal with Tencent. Apple has plans to bring its headset to China, and Tencent is supposed to help with local content, according to The Information.

Spotify gets into video edutainment. The music service is adding videos from BBC Maestro, Skillshare, Thinkific and PlayVirtuoso. It’s a test that’s limited to UK users for now.

It’s been ten years since Facebook bought Oculus. Time flies!

Sonos may launch a new portable speaker in June. The launch of the Sonos Roam 2 could coincide with the unveiling of the company’s first pair of headphones.

YouTube Shorts are being viewed over 70B times a day. More than a quarter of all members of YouTube’s partner program now make money with Shorts, the video service revealed today.

OpenAI has given select filmmakers access to Sora. The company showed off first (likely highly curated) results of what filmmakers can do with its generative video tool this week.

Twitch to streamers: don’t show gameplay on your butt. This just in from the yes-content-moderation-really-is-that-complicated department: Twitch streamers have started to project gameplay into their bodies, forcing the company to yet again update its community guidelines.

That’s it

Here’s a great April Fools’ joke for you:

Thanks for reading, have a great weekend!

And many thanks to Cleeng for sponsoring this issue of Lowpass.

Interest in running sponsorship opportunities? Here’s all the details.


or to participate.