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Guys Who Made Money Selling Mobile Ads Want to Make Money With Ads in Virtual Reality

The pre-roll ad for VR is here.


Virtual reality is in its “early days” — ask anyone involved in the field and that’s usually their chosen term.

And as with the genesis of social media, there’s a coming mad dash of people eager for ways to cash in. On Facebook, gaming companies figured out they could spend fistfuls advertising mobile games and get paying users in return. (See: King.)

A handful of ad veterans who rode that social media wave are now trying to replicate the success on VR. A new startup called Immserv is launching a “first-of-a-kind platform” that lets developers creating VR content promote that content with ads.

“It’s kind of similar to really early Facebook,” said CEO Mihir Shah. “Virtual reality has reached its tipping point, and just about the only thing holding it back is consumers’ ability to find great VR content.”

Shah used to run TapJoy, a firm that helped sell mobile ads (mostly for games) on platforms (mostly Facebook). After that, he was CEO of Flyby Media, a VR company acquired by Apple. His co-founder, John Gentilin, comes from RockYou, a company that runs video ads mostly for games.

Their product is essentially a YouTube pre-roll ad, just inside VR devices. Immserv is starting with Google’s Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR. Say you’re playing a game in your virtual headpiece (maybe this Firefly Rescue one, designed by Immserv partner Archiact Interactive). A video ad pops up at the onset or in the middle of the game, promoting another game; users are invited to download that app by using the head tracking feature in the VR device.

The ads are sold on a cost-per-view basis ranging from three to five cents, said Shah. The company has been testing the ads since December and is going live with at least a dozen apps, launching in advance of the Game Developers Conference next week.

Ads in VR are tricky, partly because of formatting challenges, but more critically because they risk upsetting users coming to the incipient form. “You can absolutely turn off customers if you’re not careful,” said Eric Hine, an executive producer for Archiact Interactive. But he stressed that Immserv ads in his games won’t, because they play like thrilling trailers and only run if consumers opt in.

The launch also comes at the onset of a pivotal year for VR, as big tech companies hope that consumer enthusiasm for the field approaches the fervor for it inside the big tech companies. Neither Google nor Facebook, massive digital ad sellers, have announced plans to bring ads to their VR efforts.

Google is testing in-app purchases and pushing the media industry to build VR content for YouTube. These may be indicators of a coming ad model, although the search giant is also pondering a subscription model across several of its products.

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