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CBS Interactive Debuts a Virtual Reality Comedy Short at Cannes Lions

Hopes Kenan Thompson will inspire creatives

Kenan Thompson boldly goes where no comic has gone before: virtual reality. CBS Interactive

Can virtual reality be funny? Today at Cannes Lions, CBS Interactive hopes to find out.

The company is debuting what it believes to be the first virtual reality comedy short during a private event. The short film, Our Reality Is Virtual, stars Saturday Night Live's Kenan Thompson, who plays himself (among other characters) as he talks about the fundamentals of virtual reality. 

Adweek was given an exclusive preview of the six-minute, 40-second short prior to its Cannes Lions debut.

Thompson discusses virtual reality and explains how it works, snapping his fingers to make characters appear and disappear at will. Turn around, however, and there's Thompson playing the film's pretentious and increasingly frustrated director, along with his camera crew.

Looking up, down or anywhere around makes viewers feel like they're quite literally in the center of the action. It can be disconcerting but also quite amusing. The short film is very entertaining, though viewers are more likely to smile than double over with laughter. Still, it's an intriguing first step into a genre that hadn't previously been embraced by virtual reality.

Christy Tanner, svp and gm of CBS Interactive Media Group, said that since her company has been dabbling in virtual reality with some of its brands, including CNET, "we've been thinking a lot about how do our other brands be a part of what we think is going to be a very significant mass-market consumer entertainment business?" 

All of CBS Interactive's 25 brands, including TV.com and Last.fm, "are ripe for virtual reality experiences," said Tanner, suggesting cooking demos on Chowhound and set visits on TVGuide.com as possibilities.

Beyond the company's potential uses for virtual reality, Tanner said, "We asked, 'How do we serve our other customer base of advertisers? We realized the technology is there now, but the creative knowledge is not widely disseminated. So, how do you take this new technology and ignite the creative part of it?"

Given those two goals, a Cannes Lions debut seemed like the perfect opportunity to highlight virtual reality. "We wanted to showcase how we would do that and our capabilities in that area, along with the opportunity, specifically at Cannes, to unite creativity and technology," said Tanner.

To that end, Studio 61, CBS Interactive's branded content studio launched earlier this year, partnered with the Uprising Creative production company, which suggested a comedy short.

"This short is trying to be a showcase for how to do comedy in VR. The Uprising Creative really felt that comedy was an underserved area, if it's served at all, and this was an opportunity for us to pioneer what's funny in VR," she said. "We know what's scary in VR, what's cool, what takes you to the scene of a news event, but I don't think it has been widely explored what's funny in it."

Tanner said the goal was "to create something that would make you laugh and then serve a dual purpose of providing a how-to, how to do virtual reality."

"We hope people will have fun and learn something and be inspired to go back and think about what they can make," she said.

Tanner also hopes that the Cannes Lions demo will help "fill a huge gap in the content that's available. She said, "What's out there now is a lot of, 'Let us take you on a virtual tour of farming in Iceland.' I personally am really interested to see what the creative community will do with virtual reality." 

That includes her own company. "We're actively developing series in virtual reality on almost every major brand within CBS Interactive," starting with CNET, which offered virtual reality coverage of E3 2015, said Tanner. Going forward, "we want to build up our own editorial and creative capabilities in this space, so as Hollywood and the music industry and food industry start to embrace this, we have as much expertise as anybody."

The virtual reality presentation will be followed by a panel including Thompson, Uprising Creative's Jeff Nicholas and Jonathan Craven, Kendell Ostrow of UTA (which packaged the short), and Anthony Batt from virtual-reality firm WEVR (which handled the film's technology and editing).

Here is some behind-the-scenes footage of Our Reality Is Virtual:

Adweek responsive video player used on /video.

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