British Sky Broadcasting, the satellite company founded by Rubert Murdoch, sent Hilary Perchard to San Francisco to partner with tech start-ups that could help make sure the TV company stays relevant as entertainment shifts to the Web and smartphones.
In particular, the company is on the hunt for virtual reality start-ups, a phenomenon that is gaining mainstream acceptance much faster than many expect, Perchard said.
"We thought it was three to five years away," said Perchard, who joined Sky in 2003 and now serves as vice president of business development. It now looks like "by next Christmas there will be a decent number of early adopters on the market and the year after it will be really big," he said.
Perchard is closely following Google's Cardboard project, designed to let anyone plug a smartphone into a goggle-like enclosure and transform it into a virtual reality headset. That brings this far-out form of entertainment much closer to mainstream consumer use than Perchard's group anticipated.
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Google shows just how easy it is to make the experience happen. On the project's website, Google provides instructions for building the goggles. All that's required is some corrugated cardboard, biconvex lenses, a couple magnets, two strips of velcro and a rubber band.
"Construct a VR viewer from everyday items you can find in your garage, online or at your local hardware store," the site says. The Mountain View, California-based company provides a software toolkit for developers to create virtual reality apps for Android phones.
Facebook made the loudest splash in virtual reality this year when it agreed to buy Oculus VR, a headset maker that gained an early following on Kickstarter, for $2 billion. But Google's leap into the market "changed our view on it significantly," Perchard said.