With Covid-19 still a constant threat, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov announced on Monday that his virtual reality and artificial intelligence company, Sensorium Corporation, is developing a new VR social platform, where users can attend attend virtual concerts, music festivals, and more.
Imagine watching your favorite artists in space, not a stage with absolute freedom to get as close as you want, Prokhorov said in an email to Forbes. VR is a new form of art.
The platform, called Sensorium Galaxy, is scheduled to launch in the first half of 2021. But there are still many unknowns. The company says it has attracted $100 million in investments from entertainment companies, but would not disclose the names of any investors. Despite claiming that it has great artists onboard, the company did not disclose which musicians or bands have signed on.
Virtual reality is still nascent, and as such, an unproven business. But Prokhorov is not the only billionaire betting on virtual reality. Mark Zuckerbergs Facebook, which spent $2 billion in 2014 to buy virtual reality hardware company Oculus, early this year launched Facebook Horizon, a VR platform that is open to a select group of beta users.
Now peoples world seems to be limited by a tiny screen in front of them, Prokhorov said in his email. The emergence of technologies that combine artificial intelligence with virtual reality represents an opportunity to fix the current situation, broadening digital communications through a new generation of virtual environments for social connections. A statement from the company on Monday said one of its goals is to achieve digital immortality.
The concert industry has cratered in 2020, with shows and festivals cancelled around the globe in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19. While there have been some efforts to hold socially-distanced live shows, from Chicagos drive-in concerts to socially distanced shows in northern England, where attendees were separated on 500 raised metal platforms, the majority of live shows have been postponed. According to industry trade publication Pollstar, the live industry could lose up to $8.9 billion in revenue this year if the current situation continues.
The pandemic has also impacted Sensorium Galaxys timeline, with minor delays in terms of development, says Matias Lapushin, a spokesperson for the company. We have a huge [motion capture studio] where we virtually recreate artists in VR, but the crisis has obviously prevented us from doing so these past few months. However, all our partnerships are still in place and great artists are on board. Lapushin adds that the platform, where users can also chat and play games among other features, can be accessed with both through a VR headset and a personal computer.
Sensorium, founded by Prokhorov in 2018, is registered in the Cayman Islands, with offices in Moscow, Zurich and Los Angeles. It owns a 27% stake in Redpill VR, a Los Angeles-based tech company that is also using virtual reality for entertainment events. The company is using a 3D creation tool created by Epic Games, the maker of popular videogame Fortnite, for its virtual platform. Other partners include the charitable foundation of Sergei Polunin, a Ukrainian-born ballet dancer who in 2019 had an invitation to dance at the Paris Opera Ballet withdrawn due to homophobic comments he made on social media.
Prokhorov is a seemingly unlikely investor in a virtual reality entertainment company. His fortune originates from the messy Russian privatization era in the early 1990s, when he founded Onexim Bank with fellow billionaire oligarch Vladimir Potanin. At the time, the bank handled loans to the government and bankrupt state enterprises and eventually got control of Norilsk Nickel, a metals giant which the two men sold in 2008 to another Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska. That year, Prokhorov was on the Forbes Worlds Billionaires list at an estimated $19.5 billion. Forbes currently pegs his net worth at $11.4 billion.
But he differs from other oligarchs as well. Prokhorov bought the Nets, an NBA team, in 2010 for $200 million and worked with billionaire media mogul Jay-Z to move the team from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Prokhorov then sold the team and the arena rights in 2019 for an estimated $3.3 billion to billionaire Alibaba cofounder Joe Tsai.
He is known to frequent the Spanish island of Ibiza famous for its nightclubs. That may be why one of Sensorium Galaxys first content partners is Yann Pissenem, a DJ who owns two nightclubs on the island.
Prokhorov ran against Vladimir Putin as president for Russia in 2012, winning 8% of the vote. And hes the only oligarch to have appeared on The Daily Show with Stephen Colbert.
Though Prokhorov had told Forbes in 2013 that he planned to run for president again, it appears that he has put his political ambitions behind him.
He is not an active user of VR products, he said in his email, but explained that he is attracted by its potential. Virtual worlds are part of an evolution of human communication, said Prokhorov. Its a natural process, and people shouldnt feel scared about it In a virtual galaxy, the only limitation is your imagination.
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