Comcast Leads Investment in Virtual-Reality Studio

  • Felix & Paul worked on VR projects with Bill Clinton, LeBron
  • Goal is to produce immersive films and documentaries

Comcast Corp. is leading a $6.8 million investment round in Felix & Paul Studios, a Montréal-based creator of virtual-reality films that has produced stories for Facebook Inc. and movie studios such as Universal and Fox.

This is the first time Comcast Ventures, the cable giant’s investment arm, has funded a company that produces cinematic virtual reality, which offers immersive experiences by putting the viewer inside a short film or documentary. Felix & Paul is also backed by Phi Group, LDV Partners and Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, a Canadian firm.

The investment reflects growing demand for stories in a nascent medium that’s currently dominated by video games and live events. After tracking most of the relevant players in cinematic virtual reality for the past year, Comcast Ventures’ Managing Director Michael Yang decided Felix & Paul was best positioned to succeed, given its VR experience, technology and low costs in Canada. The studio has already worked on VR projects with Bill Clinton and LeBron James, and was one of the first partners for Facebook’s Oculus virtual-reality division.

"They are generating money already, while everyone else races to amass a war chest to make anything," Yang said. "They showed us and proved to us they are the best."

Comcast Ventures has previously invested in five different virtual reality companies in areas such as live sports and animation. Felix & Paul, named after co-founders Felix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphael, will use the money to develop new technologies, hire staff and fund more projects. Partners have financed the studio’s biggest projects so far, including a series following James as he trains in the off-season, and a series on nomadic peoples.

"Nomads," which included an app and followed groups in Borneo, Kenya and Mongolia, cost $2 million to produce, Raphael said. Facebook supported that projects, one of many it has backed to entice potential customers for its Oculus headset.

Felix & Paul isn’t ready to fund projects of that scale in large part because the market for virtual-reality is so nascent, but the company is starting to build the foundation to develop and produce work it can own. Raphael said the studio is working on 30 different projects, and must hire senior executives to help shoulder the administrative and operational load, because Lajeunesse and Raphael spend much of their time on the road filming.

"We don’t want to have to rely on others to greenlight projects," Raphael said. "We will always want partners, but we also want projects we fully own."

(Corrects name of investor in second paragraph.)
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