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Chris Milk’s Vrse the latest VR firm to raise money, this time from Fox and WME

Chris Milk’s Vrse the latest VR firm to raise money, this time from Fox and WME
A shot from Chris Milk's 'Evolution of Verse' (Within)

For virtual-reality entertainment, the money keeps coming.

Vrse, the VR firm launched by video and commercial director Chris Milk and Google veteran Aaron Koblin, has received $12.56 million in financing from a group of investors that includes WME and Fox, the company announced Thursday. As part of its next phase, executives said, they will also rename Vrse as Within.

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Film backers Annapurna and Legendary Pictures as well as Vice, Tribeca Enterprises, Andreessen Horowitz, Raine Ventures and Elisabeth Murdoch's Freelands Ventures are also among those kicking in money. As with WME, all those firms had participated in an earlier round of seed funding.

Much of the money is likely to be devoted to hiring, as the Los Angeles firm moves from a small, house-based startup to a larger, office-headquartered one. The company's goal ultimately is to be an HBO Go-style portal for content; as VR content increases, Within wants to be both producing its own must-watch pieces while distributing a careful selection of others' content as well.

"I would use the comparison aspirationally, because we have a long way to go," Within COO Drew Larner, a veteran of streaming-service Rdio and Hollywood firm Spyglass, said in an interview. "But the way people subscribe to HBO Go because you can only get 'Silicon Valley' and 'Game of Thrones' there, and you can also watch a curated library of movies, that's what's we'd like to be for VR." Deals with high-profile filmmakers will likely be announced in the coming months, he said.

Though there are no formal relationships for talent, financial relationships with the likes of WME and Fox, the latter of which has a comparatively large in-house VR division, will give Within a pipeline to films and filmmakers. The company will also use this phase to concentrate on building technology and a consumer-facing site that will allow easy download of VR content.

Vrse has been one of the most active startups in the nascent world of VR, in part because of Milk. Director of videos from the likes of Arcade Fire and Kanye West, Milk, through Vrse's sister company Vrse.works, has produced a number of original VR pieces, including the Syrian-war documentary "Clouds over Sidra" the impressionistic image-fest "Evolution of Verse," and a Beck concert piece; that last one, which allowed the user to shift views at a Beck concert, helped establish the form of cinematic VR when it premiered at Sundance in early 2014.

The Vrse name, however, has been a bit of a branding challenge, thanks to spelling and pronunciation ambiguities. Milk said in a blog post that the new handle reflected VR's potential as a medium.

"The stories of tomorrow will be fully immersive," he wrote. "The medium, the place where those stories will unfold, exists within our consciousness. We'll find ourselves having passed through our long-held, precious frames to live within those stories. And we'll carry the memory of those stories not as content that we once consumed, but as times and spaces we existed within."

The financing is the latest influx of cash for VR firms, with Felix & Paul, The Virtual Reality Co. and others all receiving funding in the last few weeks. The news also comes on the heels of the announcement Thursday of Michael Bay's involvement with VR startup The Rogue.

Still, questions remain about how all this cash will be used and, critically, whether these companies can capture audiences. The first headsets are still rolling out and audiences' appetite for VR content—let alone the optimal form such content will take—remains in question.

Larner said that short-form content across a variety of genres and target demographics will be the goal for Within.

"In order for us to be successful we have to offer content that's appealing to my 7-year-old-son and my 70-year-old mother, and everything in between " noted the executive. "Whether it's 5-10 minutes to tell a story or a serialized longer story, we want work in every genre that will take advantage of the medium."

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