Secret Location was founded in 2008 by James Milward, Ryan Andal and Pietro Gagliano as a digital content studio producing interactive apps and websites for an array of international media and brand clients, including Fox, PBS, CBC, Syfy, Sony, NBC, NFB, Los Angeles Philharmonic, World Economic Forum, Red Bull and many more. The quality of Secret Location’s work has been steadily recognized by industry leaders and peers, including Webbies, Cannes Lions, and the first primetime Emmy for a VR experience in 2015 for “Sleepy Hollow: The VR Experience”
The Secret Location team began experimenting with VR in 2013 with the release of the first Oculus Rift development kit and produced its first VR project in 2014 for VICE and the Columbia School of Journalism with a look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was followed by other VR projects, including “Sleepy Hollow.” In 2016 the Toronto-based global media company eOne wholly acquired Secret Location, having made an earlier equity investment in 2014.
Content Focused Business Model
Key Success Factors
Secret Location has now shifted its business model away from client/service fees to the creation and monetization of original intellectual property for sale in the global market – or, as Milward put it, DzContent for sale, rather than work for hire.dz The shift began as the Secret Location team began to realize that they were in demand for both storytelling and technical capabilities, leading to more content-based partnerships instead of agency-style engagements.
The eOne investment has provided the resources to accelerate this shift, with funds available to invest in teams and original content. The company is betting on a model based upon talent, IP, story, technology, ability to finance and customers to buy in a global market for VR and other emerging platforms. In addition, Secret Location now serves as an internal incubation unit for eOne’s sizeable content business. Today, a slate of more than 20 projects is underway at different stages, though not all of them will survive and go to market. Secret Location is using range of financing models, including private investors, exclusive partnerships, studio deals, and self-financing of product for direct sale to consumers.
Technology as Product
Secret Location is well positioned with both creative and tech teams, enabling them to develop their own solutions when required. Some are freely shared within the community – like Secret Location’s approach to storyboarding for VR production. In at least one other case, Secret Location is productizing an internal solution, with the launch of their VR distribution platform VUSR. Like all VR producers, Secret Location had to confront a fragmented VR consumption market with multiple proprietary standards. To reach audience at scale, producers must deliver content to a daunting array of devices and platforms. Andal’s team built Secret Location’s internal pipeline for VR distribution to Pulse On VR: A Workflow and Ecosystem Study – Draft Report 2 of 1move VR sound, video, data, and interactivity to work on every platform — iOS, Android, Facebook, YouTube/Google, Oculus, Vive, Playstation, etc.
Soon it became clear that other publishers with the same problem might pay Secret Location for software to manage their own branded VR portal. Thus was born VUSR –Dzimmersive publishing made easy.dz VUSR is the white-label platform powering all of the VR content from The New York Times, an early pioneer in the production of VR journalism, and is being marketed to other premium publishers in the VR industry. Andal notes that Secret Location’s roots as a producer has been an advantage in developing their publisher-friendly system, compared to competitors whose roots are mainly as technologists (LittlStar and the now-defunct VRideo for example).